In Insular Cases, equality is a myth but the ball is in Congress' court

Updated: Jun 6

The U.S. territories— Guam, Northern Marianas, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and U.S. Virgin Islands— are home to 4 million U.S. citizens and U.S. nationals who are victims of the most blatant denials of equal treatment under the law in modern American history. Thanks to the infamous Insular Cases, which institutionalized a doctrine that says territorial residents do not enjoy the same rights guaranteed by the Constitution as those who live in the 50 states.

The Insular Cases refer to a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, rendered between 1901 and 1905, involving the application of the Constitution and Bill of Rights to American territories. About 14 decisions established the doctrine on the limited application of the Constitution on insular areas. They rely on a Plessy-era doctrine of “separate and unequal” to establish the relationship between the United States and its territories, inhabited by “alien races” and “people with an uncivilized race.”

Due to this now thoroughly disgraced legacy, most territories are denied Social Security Income (SSI), Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and other federal welfare initiatives aimed at mitigating poverty across the United States.

Some critics, however, argued that the U.S. Congress is using the much-demonized Insular Cases doctrine as a cover for its own discriminatory legislation.