On February 19th, Harvard Law School will present a conference on “Reconsidering the Insular Cases.”
The featured keynote address will be by the Honorable Juan Torruella, U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit: “The Insular Cases: A Declaration of their Bankruptcy and My Harvard Pronouncement”
The Insular Cases are a series of Supreme Court cases settled between 1901 and 1905 which imply that U.S. citizens living in the “insular” or island territories, including Puerto Rico, are not automatically covered by the U.S. Constitution. The opinions given by the court at the time determined that “fully incorporated” territories were covered by the Constitution, but that “unincorporated” territories, such as Puerto Rico, were only partly covered by the Constitution.
Exactly which cases are included among the Insular Cases has been a matter of some controversy. Downes v. Bidwell (1901) established the incorporated vs. unincorporated distinction and Balzac v. Porto Rico (1922) affirmed it in the case of Puerto Rico.
Torruella has spoken repeatedly on the problems created by the Insular Acts, which are, he says, “some of the most notable examples in the history of the Supreme Court in which its decisions interpreting the Constitution evidence an unabashed reflection of contemporaneous politics.”
Supporters of the discredited idea of “Enhanced Conmmonwealth” for Puerto Rico sometimes point to the Insular Cases as an example showing that Congress can create new kinds of relationships with territories; however, panelist Christina Duffy Ponsa has argued that this is a “perversion” of the Insular Acts.
The program includes three panels:
- History: Perspectives and Lessons
Panelists: Christina Duffy Ponsa (Columbia Law School); Efrén Rivera Ramos (University of Puerto Rico School of Law); Bartholomew H. Sparrow (University of Texas at Austin)
Moderator: Tomiko Brown-Nagin (HLS)
- Contemporary Issues Regarding the Territories
Panelists: Chimène Keitner (University of California, Hastings School of Law); Rogers Smith (University of Pennsylvania); Michael Williams, Esq.
Moderator: Gerald Neuman (HLS)
- The Future Status of Puerto Rico
Panelists: Rafael Cox Alomar, Esq.; Andres López, Esq.; Carlos Gorrín Peralta (Inter-American University of Puerto Rico School of Law)
Moderator: Richard Fallon (HLS)