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Online Petition Calls on Biden Justice Department to Reject Insular Cases

An online petition is calling on the Biden-Harris Administration to reject the Insular Cases after the U.S. Supreme Court granted the U.S. Justice Department additional time to decide whether it will support or oppose calls to overrule the series of racist decisions from the turn of the 19th century in a case that could be heard this fall.

American Samoan John Fitisemanu shows his U.S. passport with the not-a-U.S.-citizen caveat. (Photo courtesy of EqualRightsNow.org)

The Justice Department now has until Aug. 29 to respond to the petition for certiorari, or review, in Fitisemanu v. United States. The case about birthright citizenship in U.S. territories asks the Supreme Court, in part, “whether the Insular Cases should be overruled,” according to a press release from Equally American. The nonprofit organization focuses on advancing equality and civil rights for the 3.5 million citizens living in U.S. territories, 98 percent of whom are racial or ethnic minorities.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to take up Fitisemanu and the question of the Insular Cases this fall, said Equally American.

The Insular Cases are the series of century-old, racist decisions that established a colonial framework of “separate and unequal” status for people living in U.S. territories. As a result, residents of the five U.S. territories today continue to be treated like second-class citizens, while at the same time being denied their right to self-determination and decolonization, according to the press release. This means being denied equality in federal social safety net programs like Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid, and SNAP, while at the same time lacking any vote in the federal laws they must follow, it said.

Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently called the Insular Cases “both odious and wrong” and conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch stated that they “rest on a rotten foundation,” the press release stated. Both declared it was time to finally overrule the Insular Cases.

However, the Biden-Harris Justice Department relied on the Insular Cases to argue before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit last fall that Congress has the power to deny citizenship to people born in any U.S. territory.

Earlier this month, the Fitisemanu petitioners, through their lead counsel at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, sent a letter to the Solicitor General of the United States “to urge the government to … join petitioners in asking the Supreme Court to finally and formally overturn the Insular Cases,” noting “[t]here are overwhelming legal, policy, and moral grounds to do so.”

Twenty-three members of Congress, including V.I. Delegate Stacey Plaskett, also wrote to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, urging them to “reject the Insular Cases and the racist colonial framework they invented,” according to Equally American. A dozen civil rights groups have also called on the Justice Department “to reject the Insular Cases and the racist assumptions they represent,” it said.

The new online petition gives people the opportunity to join in calling on the Biden-Harris Administration to reject the Insular Cases and the colonial framework they established, according to Equally American.

“If you think the Biden-Harris Justice Department shouldn’t be relying on the Insular Cases to argue people from U.S. territories don’t have the same rights as people from other parts of the United States, we’d like to hear from you,” said Neil Weare, president and founder of Equally American, and co-counsel in Fitisemanu v. United States.

“It is simply shocking that in the year 2022 the Justice Department has yet to formally condemn the Insular Cases, which justified denying residents of U.S. territories constitutional rights because of ‘differences of race’,” said Weare.

The text of the petition is available at overruletheinsularcases.org.

More about the campaign to overrule the Insular Cases is available here.

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