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Congress Rules Puerto Ricans do not Have a Right to Certain Benefits

On April 21st, the Supreme Court ruled that certain federal disability benefits would not be available to Puerto Rican residents. These benefits, however, are available to residents of the 50 States.  Written by Justice Brett Kavanagh, the opinion received an 8-1 vote, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor casting the only dissenting vote.

Kavanagh’s main argument in favor of excluding Puerto Ricans from these benefits is that they also do not pay certain federal taxes. “Just as not every federal tax extends to residents of Puerto Rico, so too not every federal benefits program extends to the residents of Puerto Rico” Kavanaugh said. 

Specifically, the case surrounded Supplemental Security Income, which is available to those who are 65, blind, or disabled and have no income. The benefit is currently available to those living in the 50 states and provides money that allows those who fall under those three categories so they can purchase basic necessities. 

However, Justice Sotomayor, the child of Puerto Rican immigrants, argued that the faults of the political process should not come at the cost of equal treatment. “Because residents of Puerto Rico do not have voting representation in Congress, they cannot rely on their elected representatives to remedy the punishing disparities suffered by citizen residents of Puerto Rico under Congress’ unequal treatment.” Sotomayor explained in her dissenting statement. 

Additionally, Sotomayor warned that this kind of ruling could have “dramatic repercussions” throughout the 50 states. She argues that if congress can restrict certain federal benefits because a jurisdiction does not pay sufficient taxes, what is stopping it from excluding states like Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Vermont, and Alaska?


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