Four Puerto Rican Soldiers Awarded Medal of Honor -
Four Million Others in Territories Can’t Vote for President.
Today, President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor (posthumously) to four soldiers from Puerto Rico. At the same time, 4.1 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories cannot vote for President and have no voting representation in Congress.
In January, President Obama stated in his 2014 State of the Union Address that “Citizenship means standing up for everyone’s right to vote.”
In an Op-Ed appearing today in the Orlando Sentinel, Neil Weare wrote: “Everyone really should mean everyone. Americans in the territories have earned the right to vote.” He continued, “If Americans in U.S. territories are good enough to serve in times of war, they deserve the right to vote for their Commander-in-Chief."
The combined population of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands is greater than 24 of the 50 states, and about the same as the six smallest states combined.
Most current U.S. territories have been part of the United States for over a century, since before the Wright Brothers first manned flight (1903) and before women had the right to vote (1920).
The reason for this continuing disenfranchisement is a series of controversial and deeply divided Supreme Court decisions from the early 1900s known as the Insular Cases. In February 2014, Harvard Law School held a conference titled “Reconsidering the Insular Cases.” In the Keynote Address, First Circuit Judge Juan Torruella compared the Insular Cases to Plessy v. Ferguson, criticizing them as inventing a doctrine of “separate and unequal” that denies residents of U.S. territories certain constitutional guarantees and the promise of full political rights.
U.S. Territories Have A Proud Tradition of Military Service
Residents of current U.S. territories have bravely fought in every American war since World War I.
125,000 veterans live in U.S. territories.
20,000 service members from U.S. territories have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
87 service members from U.S. territories have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Congress is considering awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the 65th Infantry Regiment, a segregated Puerto Rican unit better known as the “Borinqueneers” who distinguished themselves during the Korean War. The legislation has over 2/3rds support in the House, and growing support in the Senate.
American Samoa’s casualty rate in Iraq and Afghanistan is 7 times the national average, the highest of any U.S. jurisdiction. At the same time, federal law labels people born in American Samoa with the inferior status of “nationals, but not citizens, of the United States.” As a result, these passport-holding Americans must first naturalize in order to be eligible to serve as officers in the U.S. Armed Forces. They are also denied the right to vote even if they live in a state.
We the People Project represents several veterans and others from American Samoa who are challenging these injustices in a groundbreaking federal lawsuit currently before the D.C. Circuit. The case may also serve as a vehicle for reconsideration of the discriminatory Insular Cases doctrine.
In January 2014, nearly 600 members of the Guam National Guard returned from Afghanistan. Guam’s casualty rate in Iraq and Afghanistan is 4 times the national average.
The U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands’ casualty rates in Iraq and Afghanistan are 3 and 4 times the national average respectively.