The Semblance of Sovereignty

Thomas Alexander Aleinikoff wrote a book called Semblances of Sovereignty: The Constitution, the State, and American Citizenship in 1998. In it, he examined the question of whether the 1952 constitution of Puerto Rico changed the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, and whether — since, as he notes in the books, neither the Supreme Court nor the President of the United States has “accepted that claim” — here is any other way to limit the power of Congress over Puerto Rico.

Aleinikoff and Harvard Press did in 1998 what Harvard professors did in 1898 by advancing “new” thinking about how to make less than fully democratic self-government tolerable for disenfranchised people. It didn’t work in 1898 and it didn’t work in 1998, and all one has to do is look at the headlines about the new PR exodus to the states and the reaction by the Governor’s party to the US DOJ brief in the Sanchez Valle case to know that the anti-statehood party is in trouble.

What it all proves is that “semblances of sovereignty” is like “in the nature of a compact” or the “recognizing the principle of government by consent” (but not practicing it). It is like the idea that PR is not a “mere territory” because it adopted a “commonwealth” constitution, even though dozens of territories remained territories after adopting constitutions (including the “Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands” and the “Commonwealth of the Philippines Territory”). It is the same as being “like a State” or “sovereign like.”

Aleinikoff’s “semblances of sovereignty” is like Justice White’s argument in Downes that the Constitution is “operative but not applicable” because territories with non-citizen populations were “foreign in a domestic sense.”  It is like Taft’s argument that the court can not “infer” incorporation based on the mere conferral of U.S. citizenship, even though the court ruled that incorporation must be “inferred” from conferral of citizenship in Alaska, Hawaii and Louisiana, among others.

Aleinikoff was the Pied Piper of Acevedo Vila’s opposition to the 1998 bill that would have treated the U.S. citizens justly based on the principle of government by consent of the governed for the first time since 1898.  The intellectual dishonesty of their ideological propaganda campaign has been confirmed by Acevedo Vila, who as Governor used taxpayer dollars to pay progressive imperialists like Aleinikoff to propound the lies used to kill self-determination in 1998.

Anti-statehood autonomists from Luis Munoz Marin, Trias Monge, Rafael Hernandez Colon to Acevedo Vila, and the party rank and file, may actually have believed Congress could cede sovereignty with citizenship but without statehood to PR if Congress chose to do so. To be sure the autonomists got lots of encouragement from federal court judges who had no accountability and from members of Congress who oppose statehood.   The problem is that this was all based on the anti-statehood movement’s argument that statehood was impossible, and that even if it wasn’t impossible there was something better.

True, U.S. racism and imperialism impacted PR in a unique way that gave rise to the anti-statehood movement, but the conferral of citizenship should and would have changed the narrative if Taft had not denied incorporation. So the rise of the autonomist ideology based on U.S. citizenship as a convenience for a separatist regime based on patriotism to Puerto Rico first is truly a legacy of the Balzac ruling. And I am sure after a couple of bottles of expensive wine Aleinikoff was persuasive about the feasibility of that dualistic theory of sovereignty and nationality.

But there is intentionality in what people allow themselves to believe, and Acevedo Vila was not just an advocate of party’s platform or his own personal belief in commonwealth. His ideology is based on the belief that there was something better than citizenship and statehood and the Constitution, and that PR could have what it wants from the U.S. without casting its lot with the rest of us, because, after all, the U.S. is a racist, colonialist, imperialist nation.

Puerto Rico’s purgatory will end when the people recognize that it is in the nature of humans and nations to express all that is good and all that is bad in our civilization, and if they don’t understand and choose statehood because the U.S. is the greatest force for good and the least racist, colonialist and imperialist nation among those with the capability of imposing its will on other nations, then PR should become a nation and try to do better.

It was an anti-statehood and therefore anti-U.S. ideology that caused him to embrace a provably and demonstrably unhistoric and unconstitutional political position on the viability of “commonwealth” as a status. The fact that he was encouraged and used by people like Aleinikoff and Trent Lott and Gerry Solomon in the states to deny rights to citizens in the territory only makes it a sadder story to tell.

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