Rossello v. United States - Voting Rights in U.S. Territories

Nearly 4 million citizens living in U.S. territories – a population greater than 21 states and larger than the five smallest states combined – are denied the right to vote for President and voting representation in Congress simply because of where they happen to live. This includes more than 100,000 veterans and active duty service members living in U.S. territories. At the same time, decisions made by the federal government impacting residents of U.S. territories can literally mean life or death, as demonstrated by federal recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Equally American is representing leaders from Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands to argue that this is not just morally wrong, it is a violation of international law. In March 2018, Equally American filed an amicus brief on behalf of current and former elected officials from these areas (see list below) in support of a case brought by former Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Rosselló before the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Rosselló v. United States argues that by denying U.S. citizens in the territories voting representation in the federal government, the United States is violating its international law obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and other international agreements. The case was originally filed in 2006 but is only now reaching the merits. Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló and Congresswoman Jenniffer González have also filed a letter in support of the case.

The amicus brief puts in context the historical relationship the United States has with Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands, highlighting the impact decisions made by the federal government have on the daily lives of U.S. citizens living in these areas. The brief also emphasizes the proud tradition of military service in each of these territories, where casualty rates in Iraq and Afghanistan range from 3-4 times the national average.

Rosselló v. United States follows Statehood Solidarity Committee v. United States, a similar case filed by advocates for equal rights in the District of Columbia in which the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ruled in 2003 that the denial of voting representation in Congress for residents of D.C. violated the United States’ international law commitments.

The Commission is holding a hearing in Rosselló on October 5, 2018. 

Amici include:

  • The Hon. Madeleine Z. Bordallo, Member of Congress representing Guam

  • The Hon. Stacey Plaskett, Member of Congress representing the U.S. Virgin Islands

  • The Hon. Gregorio Kilili Sablan, Member of Congress the Northern Mariana Islands

  • The Hon. Eddie Baza Calvo, Governor of Guam
  • The Hon. Carl T.C. Gutierrez, former Governor of Guam

  • The Hon. Charles W. Turnbull, former Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands

  • The Hon. John DeJong, Jr., former Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands
  • The Hon. Donna M. Christian-Christensen, former Congresswoman representing the U.S. Virgin Islands

Relevant Case Materials

Additional case materials may be obtained by contacting Orlando Vidal, Counsel for Rosselló Petitioners, at Orlando.Vidal@nortonrosefulbright.com

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