The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the United States. Puerto Rico, as a territory of the United States, cannot choose a status option that is impossible under the Constitution, cannot adopt as its own constitution a document that contradicts the Constitution, and cannot make laws that don’t fit the Constitution of the United States.
Yet the Insular Cases determined that the U.S. Constitution does not automatically, fully apply in Puerto Rico. For example, the Supreme Court recently ruled that the 14th amendment, the part of the Constitution that says that anyone born in a state is a U.S. citizen, does not apply to Puerto Rico, because Puerto Rico is not a state.
Only fundamental rights are covered in Puerto Rico, according to the Insular Cases. Access to SSI equally with the states is not a fundamental right, the court recently decided. The right to vote in presidential elections is not a fundamental right. These things don’t apply in Puerto Rico.
An interesting question about the U.S. Constitution has recently come up. It involves the 13th amendment, which is the part of the Constitution that forbids slavery.
The 13th amendment
This is what the 13th amendment says: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Courts have ruled that there are some exceptions to this. For example, a person drafted for military service cannot refuse to take the job. Americans cannot refuse to serve on a jury, either. In general, though, it is illegal everywhere in the United States to have slaves.
This is considered a fundamental right under the Constitution, so slavery is also illegal in Puerto Rico.
An engineer working for Google has recently claimed that one of Google’s artificial intelligence systems is a person, and that Google’s ownership and employment of this robot without pay is contrary to the 13th amendment.
Google responds that the AI system, named LaMDA, is not a person, so the 13th amendment doesn’t apply.
Most people will agree with Google. No court has agreed to hear a case on the subject. The Senate did not respond to the engineer’s attempt to get a response to his concerns.
However, the question is being discussed and considered in a serious way.
Puerto Rico and the 13th amendment
Back in 2015, Carlos Colón-De-Armas, a professor of Finance at the Graduate School of Business at the University of Puerto Rico, wrote in an opinion piece at The Hill that “Colonialism, whereby one country controls the sovereignty of another territory, is the political equivalent of slavery.” He suggested that the 13th amendment requires the United States to give Puerto Rico either statehood or independence.
We can’t help but notice that there was little discussion of this point at the time, and little now. The question of how the U.S. Constitution applies to a robot is of greater concern to many people than the question of how the U.S. Constitution applies to 3.2 million U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico.
It is morally wrong for the U.S. Congress to continue to hold Puerto Rico as a territory against the expressed will of the people, the majority of whom voted in 2012 to reject the territory status. Contact your representatives in Congress and point this out to them, please. Ask your friends and family living in states to do the same. Statehood is the path to equality under the Constitution.