The American Civil Liberties Union, along with 9 other advocacy organizations, sent a letter urging Congress to pass HRes 279 during what remains of the 117th Congress. The resolution presents an opportunity for Congress to formally condemn the Insular Cases, a line of Supreme Court cases that held residents of Puerto Rico, Guam, and other US territories—the majority of whom are Indigenous and people of color—aren’t entitled to the same constitutional rights and protections as residents of the states.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly passed on opportunities to reconsider the Insular Cases, despite apparent interest among some of the justices. The group’s letter argues that a strong statement from the US House of Representatives rejecting these racist, outdated cases will help sway the Supreme Court to finally confront the race-based imperialist legacy these cases represent.
Alejandro Ortiz, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, said that “the Insular Cases still prevent millions of people living in US territories and under US control—who are overwhelmingly people of color—from accessing certain constitutional rights and protections they should be guaranteed. Congress must move quickly to condemn these racist, antiquated cases and pressure the Supreme Court to strike down the Insular Cases once and for all.”
The letter was signed by the ACLU, Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico, the Brennan Center for Justice, Demos, Equally American, Hispanic Federation, Lambda Legal, LatinoJusticePRLDEF, the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
“With the Supreme Court recently dodging two opportunities to overrule the Insular Cases, it is more important than ever for the House to make clear that the racist Insular Cases and the colonial framework they established should have no part in the United States today,” said Neil Weare, President, and Founder of Equally American, which advocates for equality and civil rights for residents of US territories. “Next year marks the 125th anniversary of the United States acquiring formal overseas colonies, so the time to act is now. This is some unfinished business that the House should pass before Members of Congress leave for the holidays.”
HRes 279 has sixteen co-sponsors, including Northern Mariana Islands Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (D), US Virgin Islands Delegate Stacey Plaskett (D), Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón(NPP, R), and Guam Delegate Michael F.Q. San Nicholas (D). Other members of Congress of Puerto Rican descent who are sponsoring the resolution include Nydia Velasquez (D) of New York, Darren Soto (D) of Florida, Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia (D) of Illinois, and Ritchie Torres (D) of New York.
The New York State Bar Association—which this year established a Task Force on US Territories—also recently wrote Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling on her to support bringing HRes 279 to a vote on the floor.