Today, a coalition of civil rights organizations sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar urging the U.S. Department of Justice to reject the “Insular Cases,” a line of overtly racist U.S. Supreme Court cases from the early 20th century about the extent to which constitutional rights apply to residents of U.S. territories. The “Insular Cases” held that residents of Guam, Puerto Rico, and other U.S. territories acquired as a result of the Spanish-American War were not entitled to the same constitutional rights and protections afforded to residents of the states, nor were they on a path to full political participation. This perspective is best encapsulated by the “territorial incorporation doctrine.” Like the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson, which justified “separate but equal” racial segregation, and Korematsu v. United States, which endorsed the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, the Insular Cases represent a shameful legacy in our Nation’s history. The Justice Department’s filings and statements related to the Insular Cases in at least two pending lawsuits are indefensible and contravene the values expressed by senior leaders in this administration. The groups urge the Justice Department to immediately cease relying on the Insular Cases in any present or future cases, and to publicly condemn the Insular Cases and the territorial incorporation doctrine. 

Read the full letter here.


Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization. LDF has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF. Follow LDF on TwitterInstagram and Facebook.