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Latest Supreme Court decision is further proof why Puerto Rico should become a state: legal analysts

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Latest Supreme Court decision is further proof why Puerto Rico should become a state: legal analysts
Latest Supreme Court decision is further proof why Puerto Rico should become a state: legal analysts

The U.S. Supreme Court released a set of decisions on Thursday covering cases that the Court heard in Oct. 2021. Most were mostly consensus decisions, and none were 5-4 decisions. But one 7-1 decision, with a dissent written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, led some legal analysts to agree with her minority statement.

While in college, Justice Sotomayor penned her college thesis on Puerto Rican independence. A daughter of two Puerto Ricans who moved to New York, Sotomayor argued that there shouldn’t be a difference between U.S. residents on the continental state and those on island territories.

The case, U.S. v. Vaello Madero, argued that a resident of a territory should have access to federal benefits programs just like those on the mainland. Jose Luis Vaello-Madero lived in New York, where he paid into Social Security and Supplemental Security Income. When he moved to Puerto Rico, he no longer had access to those funds. It wasn’t that he as a Puerto Rican had access to a fund he didn’t pay into, it’s where Mr. Vaello-Madero lived at the time. If he moved to Maimi, he would have access.

The district court agreed with Vaello-Madero, saying that the exclusion of Puerto Rico violated the equal-protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. It was a decision that U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit also upheld. But The Supreme Court eliminated it Thursday.

“There is no rational basis for Congress to treat needy citizens living anywhere in the United States so differently from others,” wrote Justice Sotomayor in her dissent. “To hold otherwise, as the Court does, is irrational and antithetical to the very nature of the [Supplemental Security Income] program and the equal protection of citizens guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Puerto Rico’s governor responded by saying that the ruling affairs that the island deserves statehood.

Former federal prosecutor Joyce White Vance posted the decision noting that the basis for the ruling is that not all taxes apply to residents in Puerto Rico, thus “there is no due process violation to targeting benefits differently too.” She said that sad or not, the ruling is legally sound. Such a ruling indicates why Puerto Rico deserves statehood, she explained.

As one person commented, Puerto Rico doesn’t pay the same taxes as other states, but when looking at Washington, D.C., residents there do pay all of the same taxes as the rest of the states. Yet, in DC’s case there is no voting member in the House or Senate for the non-state. Residents of the city have voted 78.48 percent in favor of a 2016 statehood referendum. In 2021, Congress approved the bill, but the Senate wouldn’t bring it up for a vote.

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