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Chair Grijalva Statement on SCOTUS Denial of Fitisemanu v. United States

10.19.22

WASHINGTON – House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) issued the following statement: 

“The Supreme Court failed in its moral and judicial responsibilities to take up Fitisemanu v. United States and overturn the racist Insular Cases,” said Chair Grijalva. “Today in America, residents of the U.S. Territories continue to be treated as second-class citizens and this latest decision maintains the Plessy-era status quo of keeping them ‘separate and unequal’.”

“While the Supreme Court has failed, I urge House leadership to pass H.Res. 279 condemning the Insular Cases as both contrary to the Constitution and for their racist underpinnings. Our nation and the people of the territories deserve better.” 

The Insular Cases are a series of Plessy-era Supreme Court rulings that, in part, created the “territorial incorporation doctrine,” which establishes that the Constitution does not fully apply to the U.S. Territories. These cases used racist and offensive language such as “half-civilized” and “alien races” to describe residents of the territories and justify the denial of the constitutional rights and protections they should be entitled to as U.S. citizens and U.S. nationals.

Federal courts continue to rely on the Insular Cases and the doctrine of territorial incorporation to maintain a second-class status for residents of the U.S. Territories. For example, the legal doctrine established by the Insular Cases has been used by courts to continually deny people living in the territories equal access to critical federal benefit programs, such as the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Medicare Part D low-income subsidies (LIS).

Background on HNRC Action on the Insular Cases

  • In September 2021, Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Acting Solicitor General Brian H. Fletcher urging the Department of Justice (DOJ) to expressly condemn the racist legal precedent embodied in the Insular Cases and the territorial incorporation doctrine. 
  • In March 2021, Chair Grijalva introduced a bipartisan resolution that similarly called on the courts, DOJ and other litigants to reject any continued reliance on the Insular Cases in present and future cases. 
  • The Natural Resources Committee hosted a legislative hearingin May 2021 to discuss this resolution, which included testimony from elected officials from the territories and academic scholars. 
  • The Committee additionally held an oversight hearing in July 2021 to discuss the extension of key federal benefits programs like SSI, SNAP and Medicaid to the U.S. Territories within the president’s fiscal year 2022 budget.

Press Contact

Jason Johnson 

202225-6065 | cell: 202-580-5289



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