Puerto Rico: A Territory of the United States

The legal foundation of Puerto Rico’s status within the United States can be found in Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, commonly known as the “Territory Clause” — “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.”

Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since 1898, when it was acquired through the Spanish-American War.  The Supreme Court has affirmed that Congress exercises authority over Puerto Rico pursuant to the Territory Clause.  The Justice and State Departments and the White House in successive Republican and Democratic administrations, Congressional Research Service (CRS), Government Accountability Office (GAO), The U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate committee of jurisdiction — and federal laws — confirm that Puerto Rico remains subject to congressional authority under the Territory Clause.

Supreme Court Statements

Harris v. Rosario, 446 U.S. 651, 651-52 (1980).

Torres v. Puerto Rico, 442 U.S. 465, 470-73  (1979).

Examining Board of Engineers, Architects, and Surveyors v. Flores de Otero, 426 U.S. 572, 587 n. 16 and 590 (1976).

Puerto Rico v. Shell Co., 302 U.S. 253, 259 (1937).

Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298, 304-309 (1922).

New York ex rel. Kopel v. Bingham, 211 U.S. 468, 476 (1909).

Gonzales v. Williams, 192 U.S. 1, 16 (1904).

De Lima v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 1, 200 (1901).

Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244, 287 (1901).

Huus v. N.Y. & Porto Rico Steamship Co., 182 U.S. 392, 396-97 (1901).

Nat. Bank v. Yankton County, 101 U.S. 129, 133 (1879).

Sere v. Pitot, 10 U.S. 332, 336-37 (1810).

 

Federal Appellate Court Statements

First Circuit

Igartua-De La Rosa v. United States, 417 F.3d 145, 160 n.21 (1st Cir. 2005).

Maysonet-Robles v. Cabrero, 323 F.3d 43, 53 (1st Cir. 2003).

Dávila-Pérez v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 202 F.3d 464, 468 (1st Cir. 2000).

U.S. v. Lopez Andino, 831 F.2d 1164, 1173 (1st Cir. 1987).

Second Circuit

Romeu v. Cohen,  265 F.3d 118, 122 (2d Cir. 2001).

Third Circuit

Americana of Puerto Rico, Inc. v. Kaplus, 368 F.2d 431, 436 (3d Cir. 1966).

D.C. Circuit

Boumediene v. United States, 476 F.3d 981, 992 (D.C. Cir. 2007).

Eleventh Circuit

United States v. Sanchez, 992 F.2d 1143, 1151 (11th Cir. 1993).

United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Public Housing Administration v. United States Dept. of Housing and Urban Dev., 59 F. Supp. 2d 310, 324 n.16 (D.P.R. 1999).

Popular Democratic Party v. Puerto Rico, 24 F. Supp. 2d 184, 193 (D.P.R. 1998).

New Progressive Party v. Hernandez Colon, 779 F. Supp. 646, 661 (D.P.R. 1991).

 

Executive Branch Statements

Report by The President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, March 2011, p. 26.

Presidential Candidate and Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), as quoted in the San Juan Star, May 29, 2008.

Report by The President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, December 2007, p. 5.

C. Kevin Marshall, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice, Testimony before the Committee of Energy and Natural Resources, November 16, 2006, p. 16.

Secretary of State Colin Powell Memorandum to Belize Embassy concerning “possible Puerto Rican Requests for Recognition,” May 16, 2003.

Robert Raben, Assistant Attorney General under President William Jefferson Clinton, letter to Sen. Frank H. Murkowski, January 18, 2001, pp 5, 14.

William M. Treanor, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, United States Department of Justice, Testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee, October 4, 2000, p. 17.

Department of State Legal Brief in Alberto Lozada Colon v. State, March 19, 1999.

President George H.W. Bush, Memorandum of November 30, 1992, Federal Register, Vol. 57, No. 232, p. 57093.

Harry H. Flickinger, Assistant Attorney General for Administration, U.S. Department of Justice, Letter to the General Accounting Office (1991), as contained in House Report 104-713, part 1, The United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act, July 26, 1996, pp 66-67.

W. Lee Rawls, Assistant Attorney General, Letter to Senator Malcolm Wallop (R-WY), February 22, 1991, as contained in the transcript for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Hearing on S. 244, to provide for a referendum on the political status of Puerto Rico, January 30 and February 7, 1991, p. 6.

Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, Attorney General, Testimony before the Senate Energy Committee, February 7, 1991, pp. 190 and 210.

Memorandum by the Government of the United States of America to the United Nations Concerning the Cessation of Transmission of Information under Article 73(e) of the Charter with Regard to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, 1953, section 21.

Message from Harry S Truman, President of the United States, Transmitting the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Adopted by the People of the People of Puerto Rico on March 3, 1952.

Oscar L. Chapman, Secretary of the Interior, Letter in support of PL 81-600, authorizing the Puerto Rican “Commonwealth” constitution, May 19, 1950.

 

Nonpartisan Congressional Resources

Congressional Research Service (CRS), Political Status of Puerto Rico:  Options for Congress, Report Number RL32933, June 7, 2011, p. 20.

General Accounting Office, U.S. Insular Areas:  Application of the U.S. Constitution, November 1997, Page 1.

 

Congressional Statements

Committee on Natural Resources Report, Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2007 (H.R. 900), Report No. 110-597, April 22, 2008, pp. 4-7.

Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Opening Statement before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, November 15, 2006, p. 2.

Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL),  Opening Statement before the Senate Energy Committee, November 15, 2006, p. 3.

Resident Commissioner Carlos A Romero-Barceló (D-PR), Statement before the House Natural Resources Committee, October 4, 2000, pp. 2-3.

Delegate  Robert Underwood (D-Guam), Statement before the House Natural Resources Committee, October 4, 2000, p. 32.

Chairman Don Young (R-AK), House Floor Debate on H.R. 856, United States Puerto Rico Political Status Act, March 4, 1998, page H773.

Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), House Floor Debate on H.R. 856, United States Puerto Rico Political Status Act, March 4, 1998, pp. H779, H832.

Rep. Peter Deutsch (D-FL), House Floor Debate on H.R. 856, United States Puerto Rico Political Status Act, March 4, 1998, page H783.

The United States-Puerto-Rico Political Status Act (H.R. 856), as passed by the House of Representatives on March 4, 1998.

Committee on Resources Report on the United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act (H.R. 856), June 12, 1997, Report Number 105-131, Part 1, pp. 9, 13 and 23.

Representatives Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), Lee Hamilton (D-NY), Bill Richardson (D-NM) and Dale Kildee (D-MI) letter to Senator Charlie Rodriquez, Majority Leader, Puerto Rico Senate, June 28, 1996.

Chairmen Don Young (R-AK, Resources Committee), Elton Gallegly (R-CA, Native American and Insular Affairs Subcommittee), Ben Gilman (R-NY, International Relations Committee), and Dan Burton (R-IN, Western Hemisphere Subcommittee) letter to The Honorable Roberto Rexach-Benitez, President of the Puerto Rican Senate and The Honorable Zaida Hernandez-Torres, Speaker of the Puerto Rican House, February 29, 1996.

House Committee on Public Lands Report on Public Law 81-600, Providing for the Organization of a Constitutional Government by the People of Puerto Rico, Report No. 2275, June 19, 1950, pp. 3-4.

Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs Report on Public Law 81-600, Providing for the Organization of a Constitutional Government by the People of Puerto Rico, Report No. 1779, June 6, 1950.

 

Legal Scholars and Experts

Thomas C. Goldstein, Lecturer on Supreme Court Litigation, Harvard and Stanford Law Schools, and Partner, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, March 22, 2007, pp. 2, 4.

Walter E. Dellinger, Professor of Constitutional Law, Duke University; House Natural Resources Committee Hearing, October 4, 2000.


Puerto Rican Officials

Jose F. Aponte-Hernandez, Speaker of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, April 25, 2007, p. 5.

Luis E. Gonzalez Vales, Official Historian of Puerto Rico, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, March 22, 2007, pp. 99-100.

Ruben Berrios Martinez, President of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, Testimony before the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, November 15, 2006, pp. 33-34.

Angel E. Rotger-Sabat, Attorney General of Puerto Rico, Testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee, October 4, 2000, pp. 40-42.

Oreste Ramos, Former Senator and Judiciary Committee Chairman, Puerto Rican Legislature, Statement before the House Committee on Resources, Field Hearing in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, April 21, 1997.

Governor Pedro Rosselló (D-PR), Statement before the House Resources Committee, March 19, 1997, p. 48.

Ruben Berrios-Martinez, President of the Puerto Rico Independence Party, Statement before the House Resources Committee, March 19, 1997, pp. 57-58.

Luis Ferré, President of the New Progressive Party, Statement before the House Resources Committee, March 19, 1997, pp. 82-83.

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