Normally, when the US Supreme Court denies a certiorari petition, such a decision isn’t noteworthy. However, when a denial endorses racism, colonialism, and subjugation of millions of US citizens, that is worthy of mention, and condemnation.
In Fitisemanu v. United States, the high court was asked to overturn early 20th-century rulings known as the Insular Cases. John Fitisemanu, who was living in Utah, was born in American Samoa. His US passport noted that he was a non-citizen US national, and he argued that people born in the unincorporated territory are entitled to “birthright citizenship,” which is automatic for those born on US soil.
To clarify, all US citizens are US nationals, but not all US nationals are US citizens with the rights that go along with that status.
The Insular Cases upheld subordinate status of those living in overseas US island possessions. In the heated political period following the Spanish-American War, the high court considered whether the Constitution followed the flag. In other words, the court had to determine whether the inhabitants of the newly acquired lands had full constitutional rights.
In a series of decisions spanning more than two decades, the court concluded in the Insular Cases that these new members of the American landscape did not possess rights that US citizens take for granted. This included the right to vote and representation in the federal government.
Coming to the conclusion to deny the people of these lands full constitutional rights, the court created a legal fiction using an oxymoron, describing these lands as “foreign in a domestic sense.”
Despite the shameful racist underpinnings of these decisions, and repeated efforts over several cases to overturn them, the Supreme Court over 100 years later repeatedly endorsed the Insular Cases, not only upholding them, but effectively endorsing the tortured logic and tragic tenor of their conclusions.
The only justification for making US citizens of the US territories ineligible for federal government benefits programs is that they resided in a colonial possession. Such unequal treatment reeks of naked violations of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
But sadly, because of the Insular Cases, the is no equal protection for the inhabitants of US colonies.