Not a good week for U.S. Territories at #SCOTUS

June 13th, 2016

Last week in Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle, the Court held that Puerto Rico was not a separate sovereign for purposes of double jeopardy. This morning, the Court denied certiorari in Tuaua v United States, a constitutional challenge to the denial of birthright citizenship for American Samoans. Later, in Puerto Rico v. Franklin Cal. Tax-Free Trust, the Court held that Puerto Rico was a state for purposes of Chapter 9 of the Bankruptcy Code, prohibiting the territory from restructuring its own debt.

Justice Sotomayor offered this in dissent, calling on Congress to resolve the issue.

Finding pre- emption here means that a government is left powerless and with no legal process to help its 3.5 million citizens.

Congress could step in to resolve Puerto Rico’s crisis. But, in the interim, the government and people of Puerto Rico should not have to wait for possible congressional action to avert the consequences of unreliable electricity, transportation, and safe water—consequences that mem- bers of the Executive and Legislature have described as a looming “humanitarian crisis.” The White House, Ad- dressing Puerto Rico’s Economic and Fiscal Crisis and Creating a Path to Recovery, p. 1 (Oct. 26, 2015) (italics deleted); Letter from Sen. Richard Blumenthal et al. to Charles Grassley, Chair, Senate Committee on the Judici- ary (Sept. 30, 2015). Statutes should not easily be read as removing the power of a government to protect its citizens.

The Governor of Puerto Rico said he would appeal the Court’s Sanchez Valle decision to the United Nations.

“In the 21st century, it is unacceptable for the United States, the international community and Puerto Rico that the political sovereignty of a people depend on the opinion of another people’s legislature, even if only for the criminal prosecution of its citizens, Gov. Alejandro García Padilla said in a statement.

“I am convinced that the judgment of the majority opinion is wrong and we have the obligation to evaluate its political consequences,” Mr. Garcia Padilla said. “It is our duty to defend our right to self-government before the international community, the people of the United States, and, above all, the people of Puerto Rico.”

Mr. Garcia Padilla, whose Popular Democratic Party is affiliated with the Democratic Party, said in December that should the Supreme Court rule against Puerto Rico, he would seek to raise the island’s status before the U.N.’s Special Committee on Decolonization.

Good luck with that.