US lawmakers introduce bipartisan resolution rejecting ‘racist and imperialist language’ in US Supreme Court insular cases

WASHINGTON D.C. (U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources) — On Friday, Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., introduced a bipartisan resolution with Reps. Gregorio Sablan, Ind-MP, Stacey Plaskett, D-USVI, Michael San Nicolas, D-Guam, and Jenniffer González-Colon, R-PR, rejecting the racist and imperialist language present in the U.S. Supreme Court decisions referred to as the Insular Cases. These cases were decided in the early 20th century and establish the relationship between the United States and its territories, rest on deeply offensive racial and cultural assumptions, and include such terms as “alien races” and “savage and restless people” when referring to the people living in U.S. territories.

Raul Grijalva

This historic congressional resolution rejects the use of the Insular Cases in present and future cases and controversies. The racist and imperialist sentiments present in the Insular Cases have no place in our current discourse and do not support equal rights or the interests of Americans living in the territories. Action on the Insular Cases is long overdue.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Financial Oversight BD. V. Aurelius Investment, a case pertaining to the constitutionality of the appointments of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico. Various organizations and groups have denounced the potential use of the Insular Cases in the case, including the American Civil Liberties Union, former federal and local judges, and legal scholars.

In an amicus brief regarding Financial Oversight BD. V. Aurelius Investment, the ACLU argues that, while reaffirming the limits of the Insular Cases would be sufficient to resolve this case, the Insular Cases explicitly rest on deeply offensive racial and cultural assumptions. Similarly, former federal and local judges argue that the Insular Cases are based on discredited assumptions about the people living in U.S. territories and the Supreme Court should refuse to expand the Insular Cases beyond their precise facts. Legal scholars express that the Insular Cases rest on antiquated notions of racial inferiority and should not be extended beyond their holdings. For these reasons, the U.S. Supreme Court should decide the litigation on other grounds.