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State Bar and Puerto Rico Bar associations stand against insular cases

November 15, 2022 Rob Abruzzese
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The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) and the Bar Association of Puerto Rico both signed a memorandum of understanding at the 2022 SOMOS Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Wednesday to share information regarding unequal treatment for Puerto Ricans and other people living in U.S. territories.

Manuel Quilichini, president of the Bar Association of Puerto Rico, and Sherry Levin Wallach, president of the NYSBA, signed the memorandum of understanding, which will provide a framework for the two bar associations to work together to share information and collaborate on programs and educational opportunities.

After the signing of the memorandum, attorneys from both bar associations watched a panel discussion entitled, “The Impacts of Unequal Treatment for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Territories: The Insular Cases, Territories Clause and Recent Supreme Court Cases.”

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“Despite our disappointment that Fitisemanu won’t be argued in front of the Supreme Court, we still plan to advocate against and educate about the Insular Cases,” said President Levin Wallach. “In addition to our joint advocacy, our partnership with the Bar Association of Puerto Rico is a tribute to the many hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans who have come to New York over the years, bringing their skills and their talents and enriching the fabric of all our lives.”

Manuel Quilichini, president of the Bar Association of Puerto Rico, and Sherry Levin Wallach, president of the NYSBA, signed the memorandum of understanding, which will provide a framework for the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) and the Bar Association of Puerto Rico to work together to share information and collaborate on programs and educational opportunities regarding Insular Cases and other issues facing U.S. territories. Photo courtesy of the NYSBA

Insular Cases are a series of opinions released by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1901 regarding the U.S. territories that had been acquired in the Spanish-American War.

These cases, which are considered to be racist by many critics, determined the rights of citizens of the territories and how the U.S. Constitution applies to them. The Supreme Court held in those cases that full Constitutional protection of rights is not automatically extended to people living in U.S. territories because they were not part of the United States.

The signing of the memorandum comes after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant certiorari in Fitisemanu v. United States on October 14, 2022, a case where the court was asked to consider if Insular Cases should be overturned. In a recent opinion by Justice Neil Gorsuch, he called Insular Cases “shameful” and wrote that they “have no foundation in the Constitution and rest instead on racial stereotypes.”

Wednesday’s discussion between the NYSBA and the Bar Association of Puerto Rico focused on the recent developments related to Insular Cases and they attempted to brainstorm ways the two associations could support the effort.


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