The U.S. Supreme Court released a set of decisions on Thursday covering cases that the Court heard in Oct. 2021. Most were mostly consensus decisions, and none were 5-4 decisions. But one 7-1 decision, with a dissent written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, led some legal analysts to agree with her minority statement.
While in college, Justice Sotomayor penned her college thesis on Puerto Rican independence. A daughter of two Puerto Ricans who moved to New York, Sotomayor argued that there shouldn't be a difference between U.S. residents on the continental state and those on island territories.
The case, U.S. v. Vaello Madero, argued that a resident of a territory should have access to federal benefits programs just like those on the mainland. Jose Luis Vaello-Madero lived in New York, where he paid into Social Security and Supplemental Security Income. When he moved to Puerto Rico, he no longer had access to those funds. It wasn't that he as a Puerto Rican had access to a fund he didn't pay into, it's where Mr. Vaello-Madero lived at the time. If he moved to Maimi, he would have access.
The Supreme Court rules 8-1 that the government does not violate the equal protection clause by excluding Puerto Rico residents from Supplemental Security Income, a safety-net program for people who are blind, disabled, or at least 65. Sonia Sotomayor is the lone dissent.— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) 1650550350
The district court agreed with Vaello-Madero, saying that the exclusion of Puerto Rico violated the equal-protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. It was a decision that U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit also upheld. But The Supreme Court eliminated it Thursday.
"There is no rational basis for Congress to treat needy citizens living anywhere in the United States so differently from others," wrote Justice Sotomayor in her dissent. "To hold otherwise, as the Court does, is irrational and antithetical to the very nature of the [Supplemental Security Income] program and the equal protection of citizens guaranteed by the Constitution."
Puerto Rico's governor responded by saying that the ruling affirms that the island deserves statehood.
Mis expresiones sobre la decisi\u00f3n del Tribunal Supremo de los Estados Unidos en relaci\u00f3n al programa de Seguridad de Ingreso Suplementario (SSI)pic.twitter.com/ItHZeSfgkU— Gobernador Pierluisi (@Gobernador Pierluisi) 1650552526
Former federal prosecutor Joyce White Vance posted the decision noting that the basis for the ruling is that not all taxes apply to residents in Puerto Rico, thus "there is no due process violation to targeting benefits differently too." She said that sad or not, the ruling is legally sound. Such a ruling indicates why Puerto Rico deserves statehood, she explained.
It is sad. But the basis for the ruling is that not all taxes apply to residents of Puerto Rico so there is no due process violation to treating benefits differently too. It\u2019s a legally sound ruling - 8 justices agreed - that further illustrates why Puerto Rico deserves statehood— Joyce Alene (@Joyce Alene) 1650552988
As one person commented, Puerto Rico doesn't pay the same taxes as other states, but when looking at Washington, D.C., residents there do pay all of the same taxes as the rest of the states. Yet, in DC's case there is no voting member in the House or Senate for the non-state. Residents of the city have voted 78.48 percent in favor of a 2016 statehood referendum. In 2021, Congress approved the bill, but the Senate wouldn't bring it up for a vote.
To point out how ridiculous this opinion is, a man who receive Social Security in New York was denied Social Security simply because he moved to Puerto Rico. SSI was denied literally based on geographical location at. the. moment.— \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\uddf8 \u1d00\u0280\u1d1b \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6 (@\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\uddf8 \u1d00\u0280\u1d1b \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6) 1650551180
Meanwhile, Justice Thomas in Vaello-Madero argues that equal protection does *not* apply to the federal government through the Fifth Amendment, so Bolling v. Sharpe is wrong:\n\nhttps://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/20-826_p702.pdf#page=13\u00a0\u2026— Steve Vladeck (@Steve Vladeck) 1650551405
There are many other critics, but some are so frustrated with the treatment from PR by the US that they're urging leaving the U.S. entirely. Regardless of the decision, it's clear the status quo isn't working.
See other comments from legal analysts below:
To be clear, Thomas says that the Citizenship Clause of the *Fourteenth* Amendment "may" enshrine the same principles, but that his conclusions on that front "remain tentative." So I don't think it's fair to say that he is just holding that the same right is protected elsewhere.— Steve Vladeck (@Steve Vladeck) 1650553842
Gorsuch believes the Insular Cases should be overturned... but also votes that it's constitutional to excuse Puerto Rico from SSI payments? https://twitter.com/chrisgeidner/status/1517148549267345410\u00a0\u2026— Aditya Mukerjee, the Otterrific \ud83e\udda6 \ud83c\udff3\ufe0f\u200d\ud83c\udf08 (@Aditya Mukerjee, the Otterrific \ud83e\udda6 \ud83c\udff3\ufe0f\u200d\ud83c\udf08) 1650553287
Absolutely INSANE RACIST anti-American decision. \n\nUNREAL! \n\nDid DOJ argue for denying Puerto Ricans benefits?https://twitter.com/davidbegnaud/status/1517159039188324355\u00a0\u2026— Pam Keith, Esq. (@Pam Keith, Esq.) 1650554959
So, the Beer Kavanaugh/Amy Coney Barrett Court has ruled that some Americans, specifically those in Puerto Rico, simply are not really Americans when it comes to Constitutional rights. Good job racist bigot Trumpers.— bmaz (@bmaz) 1650553721
See comments from activists who demand independence below:
Independence and reparations. And then integration with the rest of the Caribbean. Towards a Puerto Rico that is welcoming to Dominicans, Haitians, Cubans and all Caribbean peoples. As long as the region is disunited, it will remain a strategic playground for empires.— Austin \u270f\ufe0f G (@Austin \u270f\ufe0f G) 1650556501
"The reader might ask, is this work being translated almost fifty years after its publication? The reason is simpler than one might expect: It is because Puerto Rico remains a colony of the United States."https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-struggle-for-the-independence-of-puerto-rico-juan-antonio-corretjer/1141356751?ean=9781667837963\u00a0\u2026— Rafelli (@Rafelli) 1650558061
Puerto Rico\u2019s half-in/half-out status in the US is untenable for millions of Puerto Ricans.\n\nIt\u2019s time for Puerto Rico to choose between full US statehood or independence.https://twitter.com/reuters/status/1517155009183420417\u00a0\u2026— Pi\u00e8ce de R\u00e9sistance (@Pi\u00e8ce de R\u00e9sistance) 1650565297
Puerto Rico is a colony. The people of PR deserve so much better than what the US government has done to them.\n\nStatehood or independence should left for them to decide; but everyone is in agreement that this current system must change.https://twitter.com/SCOTUSblog/status/1517144249262780418\u00a0\u2026— Gage J. Tolin (@Gage J. Tolin) 1650559981
I have a solution. Give Puerto Rico independence. Burden lifted, problem solved.https://twitter.com/GregStohr/status/1517178822357102598\u00a0\u2026— James Kirkpatrick (@James Kirkpatrick) 1650563816
The US probably doesn't fear Puerto Rican and Cuban alliance due to the economic effects of colonialism on Puerto Rico and the effects of the blockade on Cuba. That's why I see the US being more comfortable with Puerto Rican independence today.— Machine Gun Funk (@Machine Gun Funk) 1650568680
The US knew that the Spanish were to release Puerto Rico for independence and showed up with cannons in the very same month. The US occupied Puerto Rico from that day forward in 1898. They stated they would \u201cnever let the island go\u201d.— Dana L\u00f3pez (she,her,ella) (@Dana L\u00f3pez (she,her,ella)) 1650568528
this is fucking ridiculous and exactly WHY PUERTO RICO NEEDS THEIR INDEPENDENCE. PUERTO RICANS ON THE ISLAND PAY TAXES SOMETIMES TWICE AS HIGH WITH BULLSHIT COMPANIES LIKE LUMA CAUSING THEM TO HAVE NO POWER.pic.twitter.com/btjpV0Azn2— \u00eddal\u00eds\ud83d\udd2e\ud83c\udf19\u2728\ud83c\uddf5\ud83c\uddf7 (@\u00eddal\u00eds\ud83d\udd2e\ud83c\udf19\u2728\ud83c\uddf5\ud83c\uddf7) 1650566138
Better yet independence and the hundreds of billions in reparations owed for occupation and the environmental destruction arising from Vieques \nLatest Supreme Court decision is further proof why Puerto Rico should become a state: legal analystshttps://www.rawstory.com/supreme-court-puerto-rico-case/\u00a0\u2026— Stanley Cohen (@Stanley Cohen) 1650556495
About time Puerto Rico declares independence. Hawaii should too (even though they at least have statehood). The union will fall apart sooner or later anyway.https://twitter.com/scotusblog/status/1517144249262780418\u00a0\u2026— Michael (@Michael) 1650569575
Just more insult to injury. I can't speak for the citizens of Puerto Rico but full independence might be the answer because it will only get worse with no relief from the GQP courthttps://twitter.com/Deoliver47/status/1517216105428836352\u00a0\u2026— Been there Done that (@Been there Done that) 1650568578
Then Puerto Rico needs statehood or independence.pic.twitter.com/sAnQ3yqxTD— \ud83d\ude37Miss ~Is so damned tired~ K \ud83d\ude37 (@\ud83d\ude37Miss ~Is so damned tired~ K \ud83d\ude37) 1650567403
I'm hearing a lot of "Statehood for Puerto Rico!" and a lot of "Independence for Puerto Rico!" today, and *I* don't know which one the people of PR actually want? But the US government should find out and then grant that. This colonial-territory limbo cannot go on.— Joy Givens (@Joy Givens) 1650563597
Puerto Rico and the other territories should have the right to statehood or independence. This is a bad court decision.https://twitter.com/scotusblog/status/1517144249262780418\u00a0\u2026— The Hobbit Jedi (@The Hobbit Jedi) 1650554925
The knee jerk reaction to suggest Puerto Rico should be made a state is equal to prescribing a beer a day to an alcoholic person. We don\u2019t need more colonial suffering. We deserve independence and reparations.— n. Me cago en LUMA!!! (@n. Me cago en LUMA!!!) 1650558103
Puerto Ricans get drafted & die for thier useless wars out of Puerto Rico. And they never cared about us.\nSo Kill the draft process in Puerto Rico than I rather be called an immigrant not an Americans. \nCause they get more respect.\nIndependence now!!!!!!— Coach Sam (@Coach Sam) 1650570175
Disgusting. Puerto Rico needs to decide if they want statehood or independence.https://twitter.com/davenewworld_2/status/1517161257928908801\u00a0\u2026— \u2112\u00b2 (@\u2112\u00b2) 1650566087
Puerto Rico is the a colony of the US Empire, and this decision openly admits it. The US should have stopped oppressing the people of PR long ago. They deserve their full independence, sovereignty, and reparations for over a century of oppression by the US.https://twitter.com/chrisgeidner/status/1517144742215098368\u00a0\u2026— Work Stoppage (@Work Stoppage) 1650556035
And other takes below:
Puerto Rico is a colony.\nPuerto Rico is a colony.\nPuerto Rico is a colony. Don\u2019t be surprised by the decision. \n#selfsetermination solidarity with indigenous peoples, black liberation. Pa \u2018Lante.— Diego Alcala \ud83c\uddf5\ud83c\uddf7 (@Diego Alcala \ud83c\uddf5\ud83c\uddf7) 1650555103
This ruling fucks over a lot of people in Puerto Rico, and it'll be underreported because PR has no representation in Congress, and there's no way for MSM to put a partisan spin on this since both parties in America want to exclude PR residents from federal disability benefits.— Fifty Shades of Whey (@Fifty Shades of Whey) 1650555180
This is likely to bring new attention/energy to effort to resolve Puerto Rico's status. I wrote about this for @dcexaminer last year https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/politics/colonialism-or-democracy\u00a0\u2026https://twitter.com/lawrencehurley/status/1517144852818923522\u00a0\u2026— Ben Jacobs (@Ben Jacobs) 1650553755
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