The Supreme Court has ruled that citizens of Puerto Rico don't have the constitutional right to receive certain federal benefits, CNN reports.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the 8-1 opinion with Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissenting.
The case was centered on the Supplemental Security Income that became available to residents of the 50 states who are over 65, blind or disabled. But residents of “Puerto Rico and other US territories are excluded from receiving the funds.”
“In devising tax and benefits programs, it is reasonable for Congress to take account of the general balance of benefits to and burdens on the residents of Puerto Rico,” Kavanaugh wrote. “In doing so, Congress need not conduct a dollar-to-dollar comparison of how its tax and benefits programs apply in the States as compared to the Territories, either at the individual or collective level.”
Kavanaugh added that residents of Puerto Rico are usually exempt from most “federal income, gift, estate, and excise taxes,” while being eligible for Social Security and Medicare. He argued that “just as not every federal tax extends to residents of Puerto Rico, so too not every federal benefits program extends to residents of Puerto Rico.”
Sotomayor, whose parents were born in Puerto Rico and still has family on the island, wrote the only dissenting opinion. “Equal treatment of citizens should not be left to the vagaries of the political process,” she said.
“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 wrote.
The Biden administration had defended the exclusion on the grounds that more Puerto Ricans are exempt from federal taxes allowing Congress to consider this fact when excluding them from some disability benefits. President Joe Biden has previously called on Congress to extend the benefits.
Sotomayor said that equal protection principles established by the government can draw lines in the classification of people, but it cannot “base those qualifications upon impermissible criteria or use them arbitrarily to burden a particular group of individuals.”
She also added that if Congress can exclude citizens from social programs because they live in jurisdictions that do not contribute significant taxes, it could easily target vulnerable residents in states like Vermont, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Alaska on the basis that “residents in those states pay less into the Federal Treasury than residents of other States.”