Congressional committee holds hearing on Insular Cases

A major hearing on Capitol Hill this week, with the Caribbean in the spotlight. The focus: the historic Insular Cases.

The Insular Cases are a series of Supreme Court cases grounded in racial discrimination that established a doctrine of “separate and unequal” for residents of U.S. territories, lawmakers say.

The hearing this week on Capitol Hill examines how to make residents of U.S. territories equal to citizens on the mainland. You can watch the full hearing here.

The case is still used today to justify deny territory residents fair taxation, access to federal programs, and even voting rights.

The hearing focused on a bill in congress that would call on the legal system to stop using what they’re calling an unfair set of standards.

Virgin Islands Del. Stacey Plaskett (D) was among those testifying. Among the arguments: the territories pay billions in federal taxes every year, but still lack basic rights Americans in the states have. Plaskett also made the case for her current tax reform bills, to ensure Virgin Islanders seeking Supplemental Security Income – or “S.S.I.” – and to remove caps on other benefits like the earned income tax credit.

“The combined populations of the territories is greater than that of 22 states, and that of the five smallest states combined,” Plaskett said. “It is a central principle of our American democracy that Americans, through their votes, can have a say in their government.”

Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon is a member of the Natural Resources Committee, which hosted the hearing. The island territory is home to 3.3 million residents. They face the same issues Plaskett mentioned, but also are continuing their fight for statehood.

“The Insular Cases… denies democracy and quality and abhorrent bias and have provided a justification for Congress to discriminate against American citizens unfairly and irrationally,” Gonzalez-Colon said.