Members of Congress press US Department of Justice to reject Insular Cases

by Sep 13, 2021Congress, Courts, Federal Government0 comments

Representative Raúl Grijalva (D) of Arizona, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, and six of his United States House of Representatives colleagues sent a letter to US Attorney General Merrick Garland and Acting Solicitor General Brian Fletcher calling on the Biden-Harris Department of Justice to expressly condemn the Insular Cases, a series of racist Supreme Court decisions the Justice Department has continued to rely upon when defending federal statutes that discriminate against residents of US territories.

“I applaud Chairman Grijalva and the Members of Congress who are calling on the Biden-Harris Justice Department to advance their commitment to the Constitution and racial equality by forcefully rejecting any continued reliance on the Insular Cases,” said Neil Weare, President, and Founder of Equally American, a nonpartisan public interest organization that works to advance equality and civil rights in US territories.

Their letter to the Justice Department includes the following excerpts:

  • “The time is now for the Justice Department to reject the Insular Cases and the racism they and the territorial incorporation doctrine represent,”
  • “The Justice Department should ask itself whether it wants to remain complicit in the racism inherent in the Insular Cases by continuing to perpetuate the ‘separate and unequal’ status facing residents of US territories. Our nation deserves better, and the people of the territories deserve better.”

The letter highlights how, in the coming weeks, the Biden-Harris DOJ will have to express its view on the Insular Cases in two high-profile filings before the US Supreme Court and US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The first case, US v. Vaello Madero, involves the denial of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for residents of territories. The second case, Fitisemanu v. United States, addresses whether people born in territories have a right to citizenship.

“As Chair Grijalva’s letter emphasizes, the Biden-Harris Justice Department has a clear choice in these cases: either expressly condemn the Insular Cases or remain complicit in perpetuating the ugly racial inequality they established,” Weare added. “It’s long past time for the Justice Department to get on the right side of history here.”

In March, Chair Grijalva helped introduce a bipartisan resolution that similarly called on the courts, DOJ, and other litigants to reject any continued reliance on the Insular Cases in present and future cases. The US House Committee on Natural Resources hosted a legislative hearing in May to discuss this resolution, which included testimony from elected officials from the territories and academic scholars. The Committee also held an oversight hearing in July to discuss the extension of key federal benefits programs like SSI, SNAP, and Medicaid to the US territories within the president’s fiscal year 2022 budget.

The Supreme Court also announced today that Vaello Madero will be argued in person, in front of the Justices at the Supreme Court on Tuesday, November 9, 2021.