SCOTUS Shenanigans Watch

The Insular Cases that deny people like Fitisemanu equal rights as citizens were explicitly founded on racist premises. The cases, which occurred from 1901 to 1922, claimed that the people of the overseas territories the U.S. conquered in the Spanish-American War came from “savage tribes” and “alien” and “uncivilized race[s]” who were “absolutely unfit to receive” the rights provided by the Constitution. The court invented a new legal class of “unincorporated territory” for the colonial possessions taken from Spain that denied them equal rights and statehood.

Today, the Insular Cases still govern the U.S. overseas territories of American Samoa, Guam, Northern Marianas Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In each territory, Congress has negotiated different rules for people’s access to their rights as Americans.

For example, unlike other territorial inhabitants, American Samoans are not officially U.S. citizens, but American nationals. This means that even if they move to a state or the District of Columbia, they will be denied the right to vote. This was one of the chief complaints made by Fitisemanu and the other plaintiffs in the case.