Justice Thomas may be writing ruling in Puerto Rico debt case

Two opinions released Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court hinted that conservative Justice Clarence Thomas is likely to be the author of the decision expected within weeks in a closely watched case affecting Puerto Rico’s financial future.

The case may determine the fate of a local law that would let Puerto Rico’s debt-ridden public utilities restructure more than $20 billion in obligations.

Monday’s opinions, on unrelated issues, left Thomas and Samuel Alito as the only two justices who haven’t written majority opinions in cases argued during the Supreme Court’s two-week session that started March 21. Alito isn’t taking part in the Puerto Rico case because of a financial conflict.

Typically, every justice is assigned to write at least one majority opinion from each of the court’s argument sessions.

The March 22 Puerto Rico argument suggested the possibility of an ideological divide, with the liberal justices offering the strongest support for the law and Chief Justice John Roberts signaling skepticism. Thomas, as is his usual practice, asked no questions.

At issue in the case is whether federal bankruptcy law precludes Puerto Rico from creating its own debt-restructuring system. A federal appeals court struck down the island’s Recovery Act.

The court is weighing the case while Congress considers legislation to provide a more comprehensive answer to Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis.

The case is Puerto Rico v. Franklin, 15-233.

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