Will the Supreme Court Once Again Pass on Overruling the Insular Cases?

Tomorrow, Friday, November 18, 2022, the Supreme Court will once again have the opportunity to overrule the Insular Cases. The question is: will they take it or once again pass?

Below, please find a press release from the attorneys in Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico v. Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, another recent case calling on the Supreme Court to overrule the Insular Cases. The SCOTUS docket for the case is here - both the cert. petition and cert. opposition spend many pages focusing on the Insular Cases. The Cert. Petition's questions presented are:

  1. Whether the preemption doctrine allows for the displacement and amendment of Puerto Rico laws ii QUESTIONS PRESENTED—Continued by the Oversight Board through a Plan of Adjustment confirmed pursuant to PROMESA, in absence of a correct constitutional analysis of the doctrine finding express, conflict or field preemption to justify such a result.  
  2. Whether the application of a new and different constitutional preemption doctrine with respect to Puerto Rico is an improper extension of the infamous Insular Cases.  
  3. Whether the Insular Cases should be overruled. 

The Court may announce whether it will grant or deny the case as early as next week Monday.

Some additional background: Earlier this year Justices Neil Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor wrote separately in U.S. v. Vaello Madero to call on the Supreme Court to overrule the Insular Cases in "an appropriate case." Justice Gorsuch declared that the Insular Cases "rest on a rotten foundation" and Sonia Sotomayor called the Insular Cases "odious and wrong." Since then the Supreme Court passed (without any noted dissents) on the opportunity to revisit the Insular Cases in Fitisemanu v. United States, surprising many court watchers. The question now is whether the Supreme Court will again pass on the question of reconsidering the Insular Cases for the second time in as many months. 

The attorneys filing the petition, Jessica Mendez Colberg and Rolando Emmanuelli, previously called on the Supreme Court to overrule the Insular Cases both in their briefs and at oral argument in FOMB v. Aurelius, where they served as party counsel for UTIER, a local electrical union. In that case the Court stopped short of overruling the Insular Cases, but made clear that they should not be further expanded.  

Stay tuned for what action or inaction the Supreme Court takes on this petition.


United States Supreme Court considers case for the reinstatement of teachers’ pensions

San Juan, Puerto Rico

November 17, 2022

In August 2022, the Frente Amplio en Defensa de la Educación Pública (“FADEP”), an organization of teachers that broadly defends public education in Puerto Rico, filed a petition for writ of certiorari before the United States Supreme Court. The FADEP is a coalition which groups three bona fide associations: Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, Inc., Grupo Magisterial Educadores(as) por la Democracia, Unidad, Cambio, Militancia y Organización Sindical, Inc. (EDUCAMOS), y Unión Nacional de Educadores y Trabajadores de la Educación, Inc. (UNETE). Through its petition, the FADEP appeals from the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit’s decision, which confirmed the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s Plan of Adjustment. The FADEP requests that the Supreme Court overrule the annulment of their retirement laws through the Plan of Adjustment, which dramatically reduced the teachers pension rights and changed it from a defined- benefit system to a defined-contribution retirement system. Moreover, to the extent that the displacement and annulment of the retirement laws can only occur in Puerto Rico under PROMESA, the FADEP advocates for the Insular Cases to be overruled. The petition was filed and signed by attorneys Jessica E. Méndez Colberg, Esq., Rolando Emmanuelli Jiménez, Esq., and Zoé C. Negrón Comas, Esq., of Bufete Emmanuelli CSP.

From the beginning, the FADEP opposed the confirmation of the Plan of Adjustment. “The Oversight Board represented that their Plan was not feasible unless we gave up our retirement system. That turned out to be false by the Board’s own admission,” declared Professor Mercedes Martínez Padilla, President of FMPR. “So, we are not asking the Supreme Court to undo the Plan of Adjustment. We are only asking for our retirement system,” added Martínez Padilla.

“Essentially, we want the Supreme Court to rule that the Oversight Board exceeded its powers by implementing changes to the Teachers’ Retirement System through the Plan of Adjustment,” expressed Liza M. Fournier Córdova, President of ÚNETE. “It lengthened our time of service, with all that it implies for our mental and physical health and reduced our pensions to a nothing. We will not equivocate. We want our retirement system back.”

“Moreover, we recognize that our case has repercussions in the pensions of our fellow workers in the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and the members of the judiciary. Additionally, the petition to overrule the Insular Cases is important for all of Puerto Rico,” Fournier Córdova added. The Supreme Court has the petition before it and is set to consider whether to see the case in conference on November 18, 2022.

“We hope that the Supreme Court will take the case, because it contains many issues of first impression and widespread repercussions. Through the Plan of Adjustment, the Oversight Board decided it had the ability to legislate and, thus far, the Courts have let it with a strange rationalization of preemption,” commented Attorney Emmanuelli-Jimenéz. “Even when PROMESA did not grant the Board this power, this decision allowed the Board to legislate and deprived Puerto Rico’s Government of one its few remaining powers”, he added.

“In addition, this case presents a dangerous precedent that will trickle into other cases. Specifically, the power that the courts gave the Board to displace local legislation through the Plan of Adjustment has the potential to affect the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s (“PREPA”) bankruptcy,” added Attorney Negrón-Comas. “Those laws that the Board could displace keep rates reasonable, promote renewable energy, provide subsidies, protect the environment, etc. All of these and more are at risk of being preempted in PREPA’s case if the First Circuit’s interpretation is not corrected.”

“Our petition for writ of certiorari knocks on the Supreme Court’s door, tomorrow they will decide whether to open it,” explained Emmanuelli-Jiménez. “We believe we are in a very important crossroads to take the FADEP’s arguments to the Court and, particularly, to get the court to address the overruling of the Insular Cases.”

The Insular Cases are a series of cases decided by the Supreme Court in the early 1900’s that justify discriminatory treatment of the in the federal courts,” Attorney Méndez-Colberg pointed out. “These cases are based on a doctrine that refuses to extend the United States Constitution to the territories because they are of different races and customs. Our position is that, in absence of the Insular Cases, the courts would not have been able to decide as they did and that it is time that this racist doctrine that affects the everyday lives of the people that live in the territories is overruled,” added Méndez-Colberg.

Due to the substantial costs of these efforts, the FADEP has ongoing fundraising efforts for this litigation through GoFundMe and asked the People of Puerto Rico and its diaspora to support their fight to protect teachers’ rights. The GoFundMe is available in https://www.gofundme.com searching for the page: Aporta a la lucha del magisterio puertorriqueño.



Mercedes Martinez: [email protected]

Liza Fournier: [email protected]

Bufete Emmanuelli, CSP: (787) 848-0666; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]

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published this page in Equally American Blog 2022-11-17 13:27:00 -0500