SSI Eligibility in Puerto Rico to Be Argued in Supreme Court

Empire Justice Center October 19, 2021

On November 9, 2021, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in U.S. v. Vaello-Madero, a case challenging the constitutionality of the exclusion of residents of Puerto Rico from the Social Security Administration’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.  Live audio of the argument can be streamed here.  The Court will convene at 10 a.m.; transcripts and recordings will be available afterwards on the Court’s webpage.


In Vaello-Madero, the First Circuit had ruled that the exclusion was an equal protection violation under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  In addition to affecting an estimated 700,000 residents of Puerto Rico, the Supreme Court’s decision is expected to also impact eligibility in other territories excluded from SSI: Guam, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa.


There were over 20 amicus briefs filed in support of the respondent; amici included NOSSCR, Justice in Aging, and AARP, which submitted a joint brief highlighting the heightened poverty and hunger in Puerto Rico, particularly among the older population.   The governments of several states and U.S. territories, including New York, submitted an amicus brief urging the Court to view with suspicion any policy that discriminated against a state or territory in the context of a government aid program.


Some of the amici, including  LatinoJustice PRLDEF urge the Court to overrule the Insular Cases.  The Insular Cases is a line of caselaw that sanctioned the colonial relationship of the U.S. to the territories.  The cases are considered to be racist and the government’s reliance on the cases has been previously criticized.  An amicus brief by the ACLU described the cases as “reflect[ing] the unfortunate reality that the United States’ relationship with these Territories was forged in a spirit of bigotry and subordination.”


Other amici included the SEIU, National Disability Rights Network, the American Bar Association, and the Medicaid and Medicare Advantage Products Association of Puerto Rico.


Our last update on this case appeared in the July 2021 edition of this newsletter.