British-born comedic television talk show host John Oliver Sunday night focused on U.S. territories and the Americans who populate them not having voting representation in the government that makes their national laws (and can make their local laws) during his satire news commentary program, Last Week Tonight.
The U.S. Constitution limits voting representation in the U.S. Government to States. It also empowers each two-year Congress to make whatever rules it wants for territories. In territories that are temporary possessions of the U.S., like Puerto Rico and the four other current territories — vs. in territories that it has been decided are permanent parts of the country — the Constitution empowers the Congress to treat the territories and their populations of Americans less well than the States and their residents.
Oliver made a number of factual errors and misleading statements in his entertaining piece. For example, he asserted that the peoples of the five current territories do not have voting representation in the Federal government because of a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings more than a century ago known as the the Insular Cases, which reflected racial and cultural bias, instead of because the island jurisdictions are not States.
Oliver also called for voting representation for the territories without statehood — a constitutional impossibility. He also ignored that Puerto Ricans have voted for the solution that exists in the U.S. Constitution for gaining votes in the Federal government: Statehood.
The entertainer did not mention that the District of Columbia also does not have voting representation in the Federal government because it is not a State. (DC does have votes in the election of the president and vice president of the United States because of a constitutional amendment that gave the Nation’s capital that vote.)
The program included a statement by a reporter who said that the Constitution grants U.S. citizenship to everyone born on U.S. soil except in American Samoa. In fact, the Constitution does not grant citizenship to individuals born in the four other territories, including Puerto Rico. Citizenship is currently granted in those four territories by Federal laws.
Attention was paid to a lawsuit by a handful of people born in American Samoa claiming that persons born in the territory are U.S. citizens pursuant to the Constitution. The report did not mention that a Federal court has rejected the claim or that American Samoa’s governor, delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, and other leaders oppose the claim and have repeatedly said that American Samoans do not even want U.S. citizenship granted by law.
Although Oliver’s ‘report’ was full of mistakes and confused issues, it did convey the point that the Americans of the territories like Puerto Rico do not enjoy a democratic form of government at the national government level in history’s greatest democracy because they live in territories and not States.