Twelve civic organizations sent a letter to President Joe Biden (D) urging him to publicly condemn a series of Supreme Court decisions known as the Insular Cases, which prevent residents of Puerto Rico and other US territories from accessing certain constitutional rights and protections. The letter also calls on Biden to condemn the colonial regime that the Insular Cases continue to perpetuate. The petition, coming 125 years after the US invasion of Puerto Rico, is a crucial step towards advancing Biden’s stated commitment to promoting racial justice.
In the series of cases decided over 100 years ago, the Supreme Court referred to inhabitants of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines as “alien races” and “savage tribes,” basing its decisions on the alleged racial inferiority of the people living there.
“The Insular Cases are deeply rooted in white supremacy and still impact the lives of millions. The alleged inferiority of residents in these territories is archaic, offensive, and racist. That’s why, 125 years after the US invasion of Puerto Rico, we ask President Biden to condemn these cases. If dismantling systemic racism is truly one of the president’s priorities, then rhetoric must be matched with action,” said Alejandro A. Ortiz, senior attorney for the Racial Justice Program at the ACLU.
Lourdes M. Rosado, president and senior counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, added that “The so-called ‘Insular Cases’ and their racist origins continue to serve as a precedent to deny Puerto Ricans the full rights they are owed. This has been the situation for over a century, and these cases have been repeatedly cited by courts and federal agencies, such as the Department of Justice, to justify condemning millions to second-class citizenship. The Biden Administration must finally cease relying on this outdated and discriminatory precedent, thereby helping to close a shameful chapter of American colonialism.”
They were joined by Adi Martínez-Román, co-director of Right to Democracy, and Lolimar Escudero Rodriguez, policy advisor for the ACLU of Puerto Rico, who said that “rejecting the Insular Cases is a tangible way to show that the United States takes seriously the need to finally address this issue that has been affecting us for so many years,” and that “President Biden must encourage their reversal and also promote the provision of reparations for the People of Puerto Rico to remedy 125 years of colonial exploitation, discrimination, and racism in complete indifference, to say the least, to their needs and rights.”
The letter was signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Puerto Rico, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Popular Democracy, Dēmos, the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., Right to Democracy, and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.