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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Civil rights groups ask US to renounce ‘Insular Cases’

United States Attorney General Merrick Garland

By The Star Staff

Fourteen civil rights and civil liberties organizations recently wrote to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar asking the Justice Department to reject the “Insular Cases,” which allowed for discriminatory treatment against the U.S. territories.

The letter was written by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Brennan Center for Justice and an array of groups focused on the Latinx, Asian, LGBT and other communities. The Insular Cases were early 20th century rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court that the organizations say are openly racist in their arguments and set up second-class citizenship in the U.S. territories.

“There comes a time when certain prior U.S. Supreme Court decisions are recognized as falling so far outside the canon of accepted law that they become utterly discredited as sound doctrine upon which responsible advocates can rely,” their Feb. 10 letter says.

“The Insular Cases, as you know, are a line of Supreme Court cases that held that the ‘alien races’ and ‘savage tribes’ in Guam, Puerto Rico, and other U.S. territories acquired as a result of the Spanish-American War were not entitled to the same constitutional rights and protections afforded to residents of the states, nor were they on a path to full political participation,” the letter continues.

“Like the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson, which justified ‘separate but equal’ racial segregation, and Korematsu v. United States, which endorsed the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, the Insular Cases represent a shameful legacy in our Nation’s history,” it says, before calling on the Justice Department to publicly condemn the Insular Cases and bring an end to any reliance on them in future court filings.

There was a chance to argue to overturn the Insular Cases not long ago in the Vaello-Madero case, which deals with the extension of Supplemental Security Income benefits to the territories, with several Supreme Court justices questioning whether those decisions needed to be revisited. But the Department of Justice (DOJ) instead urged the court to avoid addressing them.

“DOJ’s embrace of the Insular Cases and the racist doctrine they represent, while simultaneously acknowledging their reasoning as ‘obviously anathema,’ contravenes this administration’s stated views on racial justice,” the organizations argue in their letter. “It is unacceptable for the DOJ to endorse or acquiesce in the perpetuation of a doctrine that was historically intended to enable race-based discrimination against the residents of U.S. territories.”

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