US Supreme Court rules Puerto Ricans can be excluded from federal benefits program News
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US Supreme Court rules Puerto Ricans can be excluded from federal benefits program

In an 8-1 decision, the US Supreme Court Thursday ruled that Congress does not have to provide Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits to residents of Puerto Rico. The decision impacts the residents of Puerto Rico and other US territories who are applying for government benefits.

In United States v. Vaello-Madero, Jose Luis Vaello-Madero, a US citizen who lives in Puerto Rico, argued that the law violated his right to equal protection. The district court concluded that Congress violated the equal protection clause by not extending SSI to Puerto Rico because the Fifth Amendment “does not permit the arbitrary treatment of individuals who would otherwise qualify for SSI but for their residency in Puerto Rico.” The appeals court affirmed.

After hearing the case, the majority held that the constitutional right to receive certain federal benefits provided by the government does not extend to residents of Puerto Rico and other US territories.

The limited question that the court agreed to decide was whether Congress was required to extend SSI to Puerto Rico residents to the same extent as state residents. In the opinion written  Justice  Kavanaugh, the court held that the answer to that question was no.

Justice Thomas and Justice Gorsuch  concurred, while Justice Sotomayor dissented.

Justice Thomas concurred with the outcome but questioned if the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment actually prohibits the federal government from violating equal protection. Justice Gorsuch stated that he thinks the court should overrule the Insular Cases, which held that US territories are not entitled to all the protections of the Constitution.

Justice Sotomayor in her dissent argued that “[t]here is no rational basis for Congress to treat needy citizens living anywhere in the United States so differently from others.”