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Democratic lawmakers call on Biden to back overturning racist court precedents

Twenty-three Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday calling on them to support a legal attempt to overturn a 100-year-old series of racist court precedents that still help deny 3, 6 million Americans. equal rights and protections.

The letter, led by Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva and U.S. Virgin Islands Del. Stacey Plaskett, urges Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland to “ask the Supreme Court to grant review” of Fitisemanu v. United States, a case brought by three American Samoans and an American Samoan non-profit organization challenging court precedents known as the Island Cases.

“[T]Island affairs represent a shameful legacy that simply cannot be reconciled with the core values ​​of racial justice and fairness that we share with your administration,” the lawmakers wrote.

These precedents, decided between 1898 and 1922, created the category of “unincorporated territory” to allow American colonial expansion from Puerto Rico to the Philippines while denying the rights and privileges of citizenship to their residents solely on the basis of their race. . Court rulings have labeled the inhabitants of these territories as “savage tribes” and “outsiders” and an “uncivilized race”.[s]who were “absolutely unfit to receive” the rights granted to American citizens.

Residents of Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, US Virgin Islands and American Samoa still do not have the same rights and privileges as US citizens under these court precedents. And the disenfranchisement for American Samoans is even more acute, as they are categorized as “US nationals” and therefore cannot even be eligible for citizenship rights if they move to the continental United States as can other residents of the territory.

John Fitisemanu and fellow plaintiffs Pale Tuli and Rosavita Tuli, all of whom currently reside in Utah, argue that the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment, which grants birthright citizenship to persons “born or naturalized in the United States United, and subject to their jurisdiction. covers anyone born in US-controlled territories.

The attorney for Fitisemanu and the Tulis also sent a letter on Tuesday to Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar calling on her to “join the petitioners in asking the Supreme Court to finally and formally quash the island cases.”

Despite Biden’s pledge to eradicate systemic racism and white supremacy, the attorney’s letter notes that Biden’s Justice Department “relied on and vigorously defended the island cases to support the conclusion. that the petitioners are not entitled to birthright citizenship under the citizenship clause”.

Of the. Stacey Plaskett (DV.I.) sent a letter along with 22 other Democratic lawmakers to the White House calling on Biden to support overturning Supreme Court precedents that deny equal rights to his constituents.

Kevin Dietsch via Getty Images

The Justice Department declined to comment. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Civil rights groups supporting the Fitisemanu case have previously called on Garland and Prelogar to stop relying on island cases in their pleadings.

The two letters from Fitisemanu’s lawyer and Democratic lawmakers call on Biden, Garland and Prelogar to publicly back off and apologize for resorting to island affairs, as the Obama administration did with respect to the decision to 1944 in Korematsu v. United States which approved the Japanese withdrawal. and internment.

“I was proud of what we did in the Korematsu cases when I was acting Solicitor General, and I hope the Justice Department today uses legal judgment, uses its conscience, and does what it takes,” said Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general for the Obama administration. , said at a press conference announcing the letters sent to Biden, Garland and Prelogar.

Katyal was joined by civil rights groups pushing to undo island business and Fitisemanu and other residents of U.S. territory, who continue to be denied equal rights and privileges based on their place of residence. residence or birth.

Guam resident David Diamadi explained that his daughter Haley Nicole Diamadi, who has Down syndrome, will not be able to access Social Security Supplemental Income benefits when she turns 18 solely because of where she lives. she lives.

“This presents my wife and I with a terrible choice, either we take Haley away from the only place she has ever really known – a community of family and friends who love and support her here as we support my wife and me – or deny her access to the financial benefits that would ensure her long-term care,” Diamadi said.

“This continued discrimination against residents of U.S. territories is the legacy of Insular Affairs and the doctrine of separation and inequality they created,” Diamadi added.

Push for Supreme Court to overturn island cases comes after Justices Neil Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor both called on the court to take up a case to do just that in their separate opinions in Vaello-Madero v. United States, which has resulted in the continued denial of Social Security Supplemental Income benefits to residents of Puerto Rico.

It is “high time to acknowledge the seriousness of this error and admit what we know to be true: Island affairs have no basis in the Constitution and are instead based on racial stereotypes,” Gorsuch wrote in an opinion piece. concordant. “They deserve no place in our law.”

Gorsuch pointed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in the Fitisemanu case, which explicitly relied on the island cases to continue to deny American Samoans equal rights as Americans, as the reason for which the court quashed the island cases. He called the 10th Circuit’s decision one of ‘recent attempts’ by lower courts ‘to redirect island cases [by] simply drape[ing] the worst of their logic in a new light.

Sotomayor noted his agreement with Gorsuch’s call to quash island affairs in his dissenting opinion in Vaello-Madero while noting that previous centenarians were “both odious and wrong”.

The Justice Department has until July 29 to file a response to the Supreme Court indicating whether it supports or opposes the court hearing the Fitisemanu case.

The Huffington Gt

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