Sunday, October 18, 2009

More on the Status of U.S. Territories

A while back, we had a nice discussion on the constitutional standing of Puerto Rico and its status as a legal anomaly in the overal U.S. political system. Over at Balkinization, Alan Tauber has a great post on the overseas U.S. empire, which also includes the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa. All the territories differ from one another in terms of their political system, the level of participation in the U.S. political system, the status of their members vis-a-vis the U.S. polity, and the oversight of their judicial system by either U.S. courts or the U.S. Department of Interior. All territories, it seems, can be considered anomalies when compared to the fifty states.

As Martin remarked in his post, such issues are rarely discussed in U.S. constitutional theory scholarship. Alan Tauber's post (and also an article published three years ago) make sense of this complicated situation.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this Adam. It is an interesting post, but it is a bit misleading in describing the situation in Puerto Rico. For example, the author states:

    "The latest referendum took place in 1996. Puerto Ricans were faced with three choices – independence, statehood or an “enhanced commonwealth status” which was never clearly defined. The largest share of votes (over 48%) went to “None of the Above” indicating that a large plurality of Puerto Ricans are happy with their current status. Independence received the lowest share of the votes."

    In fact, that referendum (which took place in 1998), presented voters with four (not 3) alternatives: (1) an unmodified commonwealth status (received less than 1% of the vote); (2) free association with the U.S. as defined in U.N. Resolution 1541(XV) (received less than 1% of the vote) ; (3) statehood (received 46% of the vote); (4) independence (received 2.5% of the vote). As the author notes, a majority close to 50% voted "None of the above", but not as a way of voting in favour of the status quo (which was represented in alternative 1 and received less than 1% of the vote), but as a way of protesting against the fact that the "enhanced commonwealth status" they supported was not one of the alternatives. As a matter of fact, the party that supported "None of the above" in that referendum is now divided between supporters of an "enhanced commonwealth status" and supporters of sovereignty.

    So, to indicate "a large plurality of Puerto Ricans are happy with their current status" is a bit of an exaggeration :).


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