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Long live the Insular Cases


Thursday’s Saipan Tribune reports that a congressional resolution has been introduced, co-sponsored by Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan, denouncing the Insular Cases—a set of U.S. Supreme Court decisions limiting the reach of the U.S. Constitution in outlying offshore jurisdictions.

The resolution focuses on some obnoxious language in those decisions, but it overlooks their actual effect, which is to provide constitutional breathing room for a robust variety of cultural norms, values, and priorities to exist and thrive under a common political umbrella, instead of requiring one size to fit all.

Without these cases, for example, there would be no Article XII of the CNMI Constitution, protecting local land ownership; no equal representation for Rota and Tinian in the CNMI Senate; and no hope of any future arrangements protecting the CNMI from any other unwelcome U.S. constitutional provisions.

Indeed, the Insular Cases provided the flexibility that made the existence of the CNMI in its current form possible. There would be no Covenant, and no CNMI, without the Insular Cases.

If, therefore, as the resolution says, the Insular Cases have “no place in United States constitutional law,” that means the CNMI has no place in the American political family. If the Insular Cases are rejected by U.S. courts, then the Covenant, and the US-CNMI union it creates, must also be rejected, leaving the CNMI in limbo.

I don’t think Delegate Kilili really wants this, so I hope he will withdraw his support for this resolution.

Long live the Insular Cases, and long live the CNMI.
Jed Horey
As Matuis, Saipan

Contributing Author

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