Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Centuries-old racist US Supreme Court case still rules millions of Americans

The 4 million residents of five US territories – Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Northern Marianas Islands, Guam and the US Virgin Islands – do not have full protection of the Constitution, as a series of Supreme Court cases date back to 1901. Based on archaic, often racist language and logic.

No US citizen residing in any of these places may vote for president. He doesn’t even have a voting representative in Congress.

But this inferiority is inconsistent. Puerto Ricans are US citizens and can vote in federal elections if they live in a US state – but not if they live in Puerto Rico or other territories.

However, American Samoas are not US citizens, so they cannot vote for president even if they live in 50 states. which is being challenged in federal courts.

All this is the result of a political and legal mindset that is more than 100 years old, but still in force.

superiority complex

By the end of the 19th century, it was assumed that all US territories would eventually become full states, whose residents would become US citizens with rights fully protected by the Constitution. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 outlined this process: as soon as new lands were opened to Americans, Congress would initially appoint a governor and judges for the territory and establish the rule of law. When the regional population exceeds 5,000 adult males, voters will elect a legislature and send a non-voting representative to Congress. When the region reached a population of 60,000, the region would petition for statehood and be admitted to the union.

That process assumed that the regions would be in North America, and that the majority of the regional population would be people of European descent. Those perceptions changed when the United States claimed Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam as spoils of war at the end of the Spanish–American War in 1898. Puerto Rico and Guam are still US territories.

That expansion gave Americans a clearer understanding of the nation’s purpose and power in the world, effectively summarized by U.S. Sen. Albert Beveridge of Indiana in a speech to Congress on January 9, 1900: “[God] To establish order where chaos reigns has made us the master organizers of the world. He has made us skilled in government that we can run government among the barbarians and the enslaved people. ”

a new field

Beginning in 1901, a group of court cases, collectively referred to as “insular cases”, created new constitutional law regarding the United States’ relations with its territories. They began when import companies challenged tariffs imposed on goods transported into the US from newly acquired territories. The companies claimed that there should be no tariffs, as goods were moving from one part of the US to another.

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The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the companies were correct that transportation within the US was not subject to the tariffs, but made an exception, in that the new land was neither a foreign country nor part of the US.

Those territories, the Supreme Court ruled in 1901 before the insular cases, in Downes v. Bidwell, were “foreign in the domestic sense,” “inhabited by foreign races”, and were therefore governed “according to Anglo-Saxon principles”. . It may be impossible for the time being.”

The ruling also included other bias-revealing statements, such as, “It is clear that the differences and differences of race, habits, laws and customs of the people in the acquisition of external and distant property will raise serious questions about the soil.” , climate and production, which may require action on the part of Congress, which would be quite unnecessary in the occupation of a contiguous area inhabited only by people of the same caste, or by scattered bodies of Native Indians.

As a result, the court made a new distinction: The “incorporated” territories of America were expected to one day become states. In contrast, “unincorporated” territories were not – and, therefore, their residents were, and still are, deprived of some of their constitutional rights.

The 2020 referendum in Puerto Rico supported the state; Guam’s officials have called for statehood; And Stacey Plaskett, who represents the people of the US Virgin Islands in Congress, says her constituents deserve full citizenship rights, including the right to vote.

cases and cases

Both at the time and later, Downes’ decision has been described as meaning “does not obey the Constitution flag”. The states may be ruled by the Congress, but not necessarily by the Constitution.

What this meant for the people of those regions was not clear. And despite five other cases in 1901, and other cases in the subsequent 20 years, the Supreme Court has never clarified which constitutional protections were available to whom and which were not. This left open questions about whether key elements of the Constitution, such as trial by jury, or even the Bill of Rights, were available in unincorporated territories.

Hawaii was also acquired in 1898, but was treated separately and eventually became a state. The differences were probably due to partisan politics and a republican-democratic balance in Congress.

Two American Samoa men working for the region’s government made different choices about US citizenship. Filippo Illoa, on the left, became a civilian; Bonnelley Pa’uulu remains a US citizen without full citizenship rights and privileges.
AP Photo/Jennifer Cinco Kelleher

Supreme Court’s interpretation over the years

Since the mid-20th century, the Court has made small incremental changes to the effects of insular cases, changing technical definitions of taxes, trade and government benefits such as Social Security, Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. But the court has not addressed the overall low constitutional status of the regions and the people living there.

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It was not until 1957, for example, in Reid v. Secret, that the Supreme Court ruled that defendants in territories had the right to trial by jury—a rightful citizen due to Article III of the Constitution. Several judges clarified that “neither the cases nor their arguments should be further elaborated.” That statement was widely seen as a sign that insular affairs were waning.

In Torres v Puerto Rico (1979), the court further weakened the insular case. Although limited to the territory at hand, the Supreme Court clarified that the Bill of Rights actually applies to a US territory.

Bush, the court held that detainees at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had a constitutional right to habeas corpus to challenge the legality of their detention. Justice Anthony Kennedy said, “It may well be that over time the relationship between the United States and any of its territories strengthens in ways of constitutional significance,” and that the federal government has ” The Constitution does not have the power to change “on or off at will.”

But in its 2020 decision in the Board of Financial Oversight and Management for Puerto Rico v Aurelius Investments, the court backtracked on its tendency to provide constitutional protections to unincorporated areas. It ruled that President Barack Obama’s appointments to the board, a government body focused on helping Puerto Rico return to financial stability, were local officials, not “United States officials”, and therefore ratified the Senate. was not required.

Four people marched with a flag.
Athletes from the US Virgin Islands arrive at the Paralympics in Tokyo in August 2021.
AP photo/Eugene Hoshiko

in future

Many legal scholars see the court’s mention of US territorial ties strengthening “over time” as a possible key to reversing the insular cases. The original distinction held that the US would “temporarily rule territories with completely different traditions and institutions.” Most accept perceived distinctions that apparently no longer exist.

These regions have established institutions and principles based on American traditions. The internal governments of these regions have established laws, governmental institutions and legal conventions that are indistinguishable from those of any state in the Union. They elect, are residents serving in the US military, and play a role in nation building.

But without equal suffrage and congressional representation, Americans living in these areas cannot resolve their position in the ballot box.

[The Conversation’s Politics + Society editors pick need-to-know stories. Sign up for Politics Weekly.]

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

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