Supreme Court Statements on Puerto Rico’s Status

Harris v. Rosario, 446 U.S. 651, 651-52 (1980). Congress, which is empowered under the Territory Clause of the constitution, U.S. const., Art. IV, 3, cl.2, to “make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the territory . . . belonging to the United States,” may treat Puerto Rico differently from States so long as there is a rational basis for its actions.

Torres v. Puerto Rico, 442 U.S. 465, 470-473 (1979).  Puerto Rico has no sovereign authority to control entry into its territory; as with all international ports of entry, border and customs control for Puerto Rico is conducted by federal officers[.]

Congress may make constitutional provisions applicable to territories in which they would not otherwise be controlling.  Congress generally has left to this Court the questions of what constitutional guarantees apply to Puerto Rico.  However, because the limitation on the application of the Constitution in unincorporated territories is based in part on the need to preserve Congress’ ability to govern such possessions, and may be overruled by Congress, a legislative determination that a constitutional provision practically and beneficially may be implemented in a territory is entitled to great weight.

Examining Board of Engineers, Architects, and Surveyors v. Flores de Otero, 426 U.S. 572, 587 n. 16 and 590 (1976). The powers vested in Congress by Const., Art. IV, Sec. 3, cl. 2, to govern Territories are broad.  And in the case of Puerto Rico, the Treaty of Paris specifically provided:  “The civil rights and political status of the native inhabitants of the territories hereby ceded to the United States shall be determined by Congress.”

Congress appears to have left the question of the personal rights to be accorded to the inhabitants of Puerto Rico to orderly development by [the Supreme Court] and to whatever further provision Congress itself might make for them.

Puerto Rico v. Shell Co., 302 U.S. 253, 259 (1937). “[W]e hold, accordingly, that the word ‘territory’ was used in its most comprehensive sense [in Section 3 of the Sherman Act], as embracing all organized territories, whether incorporated into the United States or not, including Puerto Rico.

Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298, 304-09 (1922).  [It is] clearly settled that [the right to trial by jury does] not apply to territory belonging to the United States which has not been incorporated into the Union.  It was further settled in Downes v. Bidwell and confirmed by Dorr v. United States that neither the Philippines nor Puerto Rico was territory which had been incorporated in the Union or become a part of the United States, as distinguished from merely belonging to it. . . . The Porto Rican can not insist upon the right of trial by jury, except as his own representatives in his legislature shall confer it on him.

New York ex rel. Kopel v. Bingham, 211 U.S. 468, 476 (1909).  It may be justly asserted that Porto Rico is a completely organized Territory, although not a Territory incorporated into the United States, and that there is no reason why Porto Rico should not be held to be such a Territory[.]

Gonzales v. Williams, 192 U.S. 1, 16 (1904).  [Appellant, a Puerto Rican native and resident born before the signing of the Treaty of Paris who was traveling to New York] was not a passenger from a foreign port, and was a passenger “from territory or other place” subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

De Lima v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 1, 200 (1901).  We are therefore of [the] opinion that at the time these duties were levied [after the signing of the Treaty of Paris] Porto Rico was not a foreign country within the meaning of the tariff laws but a territory of the United States [.]

Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244, 287 (1901).  We are therefore of the opinion that the Island of Puerto Rico is a territory appurtenant and belonging to the United States [.]

Huus v. N.Y. & Porto Rico Steamship Co., 182 U.S. 392, 396-97 (1901). [T]rade with that island [Puerto Rico] is properly a part of the domestic trade of the country since the treaty of annexation [.]

Nat. Bank v. Yankton County, 101 U.S. 129, 133 (1879).  All territory within the jurisdiction of the United States not included in any State must necessarily be governed by or under the authority of Congress.

Sere v. Pitot, 10 U.S. 332, 336-37 (1810).  The power of governing and of legislating for a territory is the inevitable consequence of the right to acquire and to hold territory. Could this position be contested, the constitution of the United States declares that “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.

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