“Between 1901 and 1904, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a series of cases, collectively known as the Insular Cases, which asked whether the Constitution should fully apply to the residents of Puerto Rico and other territories recently acquired by the U.S. after its victory in the Spanish-American War. The Court held that the Constitution did not fully apply in those U.S.-held territories.
The Insular Cases have been severely criticized—then and now—for being the product of racist and imperialist thinking. The legal scholar Walter F. Pratt Jr., author of The Insular Cases: The Role of the Judiciary in American Expansionism, described the legal arguments involved as “largely racially motivated,” since the Court effectively held that “the people of the new territories were unfit to become citizens.”
A similar criticism of the Insular Cases was recently voiced by Justice Neil Gorsuch, who argued that “the Insular Cases have no foundation in the Constitution and rest instead on racial stereotypes. They deserve no place in our law.””
“Gorsuch also added his voice to those calling for the Insular Cases to be wiped off the books. “The time has come to recognize that the Insular Cases rest on a rotten foundation,” Gorsuch wrote. “And I hope the day comes soon when the Court squarely overrules them.”
Alas, the Department of Justice under President Joe Biden apparently sees things differently. As The Washington Post‘s Robert Barnes recently reported, “the Biden administration told the Supreme Court Monday that it should not take up a case [Fitisemanu v. United States] about citizenship rights for American Samoa even though advocates say it would give justices a chance to upend a series of century-old precedents that have been roundly denounced as racist.””