Supreme Court appeal In territorial voting rights case gets boost

by | May 23, 2018 | Courts, Headlines | Comments

A petition to the United States Supreme Court seeking expanded voting rights in US territories has received an important boost. Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands Bar Association, and leading voting rights scholars have each filed amicus briefs in support of Supreme Court review in Segovia v. United States. Last month, Luis Segovia, a proud veteran living in Guam, along with other former state residents living in Guam, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, petitioned the Supreme Court to answer whether it is constitutional to deny absentee voting rights in these territories while allowing citizens living in other US territories or even a foreign country to continue being able to vote for President and voting representation in Congress.

“We are thrilled with the support we have received for the idea that where you live should not impact your right to vote,” said Neil Weare, who represents the plaintiffs in Segovia v. United States and is the President of Equally American, a non-profit organization that advocates for equality and civil rights for the nearly 4 million Americans who live in US territories. “Most Supreme Court petitions do not receive support from a single amicus brief, so it says a lot that three briefs have been filed in support of Supreme Court review here.”

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico’s brief challenges the view presented by the Seventh Circuit that ruling in favor of the Segovia plaintiffs would create so-called “super citizens,” also addressing how continued disenfranchisement impacts the daily lives of Puerto Ricans and others in US territories.

“The Supreme Court should reject the Seventh Circuit’s idea that providing Puerto Ricans the same voting rights as other Americans would turn them into ‘super citizens.’ This is about equality – people who move to Puerto Rico should enjoy the same voting rights as those who move to other territories or a foreign country. That is why we continuously advocate for Statehood, in order to end once and for all any unequal treatment” said Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló.

Virgin Islands Bar Association

The Virgin Islands Bar Association (VIBA) argues in its brief that the Supreme Court should take the case as an opportunity to narrow or overturn the Insular Cases, a series of controversial Supreme Court decisions that were grounded in racial hostility towards the inhabitants of overseas territories.

“Despite indications from the Supreme Court that the Insular Cases should no longer be relied upon to deny constitutional rights in US territories, lower courts continue to reflexively apply them to justify discrimination against the nearly 4 million Americans living in the territories. Unless the Supreme Court steps in, lower courts will continue to run amok,” said VIBA President Anthony Ciolli.

Voting Rights Scholars

Leading voting rights scholars argue in their brief that Supreme Court review is necessary to reverse the Seventh Circuit’s decision to apply a lower level of judicial scrutiny to the regulation of voting rights in US territories than it would apply to similar laws impacting Americans in other parts of the United States.

The brief highlights several ways the Seventh Circuit’s decision conflicts with precedent from other federal courts. “Once a state legislature or Congress extends the right to vote to one group of people,” the brief explains “it cannot deprive another identically situated group of people of the right to cast a vote purely based on geography.”

Amici include Samuel Issacharoff, Reiss Professor of Constitutional Law at NYU School of Law; Joshua Douglas, Robert G. Lawson & William H. Fortune Associate Professor of Law at University of Kentucky College of Law; Chad Flanders, Professor of Law at Saint Louis University School of Law; Joseph Fishkin, Marrs McLean Professor in Law at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law; Nicholas Stephanopoulos, Fried Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School; and Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Leon Highbaugh Sr. Research Chair and Professor of Law, Stetson University.