‘A stain on our country’: Criticism of ‘racist’ Supreme Court rulings

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The US Supreme Court . . . a series of legal opinions on US territories have been labelled racist by critics. Image: Pacific Legal Foundation

By Mark Rabago, RNZ Pacific Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas correspondent

The US Department of Justice is being urged to condemn and cease its reliance on the “Insular Cases” — a series of US Supreme Court opinions on US territories, which have been labelled racist.

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Durbin called them “a stain on the history of our country and its highest court”.

The territories include the Northern Marianas, Guam, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and American Samoa.

A letter signed by 43 members of Congress was sent to the Department of Justice this month.

The letter follows a filing by the Justice Department last month, in which it stated that “aspects of the Insular Cases’ reasoning and rhetoric, which invoke racist stereotypes, are indefensible and repugnant”.

But the court has yet to reject the doctrine wholly and expressly.

US House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee ranking member Raúl M. Grijalva said the Justice Department had made strides in the right direction by criticising “aspects” of the Insular Cases.

‘Reject these racist decisions’
“But it is time for DOJ to go further and unequivocally reject these racist decisions; much as it has for other Supreme Court opinions that relied on racist stereotypes that do not abide by the Constitution’s command of equality and respect for rule of law,” he said.

Congresswoman Stacey E. Plaskett said the Justice Department had a crucial opportunity to take the lead in rejecting the Insular Cases.

“For far too long these decisions have justified a racist and colonial legal framework that has structurally disenfranchised the 3.6 million residents of US territories and denied them equal constitutional rights.”

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Durbin said the decisions still impact on those who live in US territories to this day.

“We need to acknowledge that these explicitly racist decisions were wrongly decided, and I encourage the Department of Justice to say so.”

In recent weeks, Virgin Islands Governor Albert Bryan, Jr and Manuel Quilichini, president of the Colegio de Abogados y Abogadas de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Bar Association), have also sent letters to DOJ urging the Department to condemn the Insular Cases.

Quilichini wrote to DOJ earlier this month, and this followed a 2022 resolution by the American Bar Association and similar letters from the Virgin Islands Bar Association and New York State Bar Association to the Justice Department.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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