ArtIV.S3.C2.1.3 Territories: Powers of Congress Thereover

Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2:

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.

In the territories, Congress has the entire dominion and sovereignty, national and local, and has full legislative power over all subjects upon which a state legislature might act. 1 It may legislate directly with respect to the local affairs of a territory or it may transfer that function to a legislature elected by the citizens thereof, 2 which will then be invested with all legislative power except as limited by the Constitution of the United States and acts of Congress. 3 In 1886, Congress prohibited the enactment by territorial legislatures of local or special laws on enumerated subjects. 4 The constitutional guarantees of private rights are applicable in territories which have been made a part of the United States by congressional action 5 but not in unincorporated territories. 6 Congress may establish, or may authorize the territorial legislature to create, legislative courts whose jurisdiction is derived from statutes enacted pursuant to this section other than from Article III. 7 Such courts may exercise admiralty jurisdiction despite the fact that such jurisdiction may be exercised in the states only by constitutional courts. 8

Footnotes

  1.  Simms v. Simms, 175 U.S. 162, 168 (1899). See also United States v. McMillan, 165 U.S. 504, 510 (1897); El Paso & N.E. Ry. v. Gutierrez, 215 U.S. 87 (1909); First Nat’l Bank v. County of Yankton, 101 U.S. 129, 133 (1880).
  2.  Binns v. United States, 194 U.S. 486, 491 (1904). See also Sere v. Pitot, 10 U.S. (6 Cr.) 332, 336 (1810); Murphy v. Ramsey, 114 U.S. 15, 44 (1885).
  3.  Walker v. New Mexico & So. Pac. R.R., 165 U.S. 593, 604 (1897); Simms v. Simms, 175 U.S. 162, 163 (1899); Wagoner v. Evans, 170 U.S. 588, 591 (1898).
  4.  24 Stat. 170 (1886).
  5.  Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244, 271 (1901). See also The Late Corp. of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v. United States, 136 U.S. 1, 14 (1890); ICC v. United States ex rel. Humboldt Steamship Co., 224 U.S. 474 (1912).
  6.  Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244 (1901); Dorr v. United States, 195 U.S. 138 (1904); Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298 (1922) (collectively, the Insular Cases). The guarantees of fundamental rights apply to persons in Puerto Rico, id. at 312-13, but what these are and how they are to be determined, in light of Balzac’s holding that the right to a civil jury trial was not protected. The vitality of the Insular Cases has been questioned by some Justices (Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1, 14 (1957) (plurality opinion); Torres v. Puerto Rico, 442 U.S. 465, 474, 475 (1979) (concurring opinion of four Justices)), but there is no doubt that the Court adheres to it (United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, 494 U.S. 259, 268 (1990); Harris v. Rosario, 446 U.S. 651 (1980)). Applying stateside rights in Puerto Rico are Calero-Toledo v. Pearson Yacht Leasing Co., 416 U.S. 663 (1974) (procedural due process); Examining Bd. v. Flores de Otero, 426 U.S. 572 (1976) (equal protection principles); Torres v. Puerto Rico, 442 U.S. 465 (1979) (search and seizure); Harris v. Rosario, supra (same); Rodriguez v. Popular Democratic Party, 457 U.S. 1, 7-8 (1982) (equality of voting rights); Posadas de Puerto Rico Associates v. Tourism Co. of Puerto Rico, 478 U.S. 328, 331 n.1 (1986) (First Amendment speech). See also Califano v. Torres, 435 U.S. 1, 4 n.6 (1978) (right to travel assumed). Puerto Rico is, of course, not the only territory that is the subject of the doctrine of the Insular Cases. E.g., Ocampo v. United States, 234 U.S. 91 (1914) (Philippines and Sixth Amendment jury trial); Hawaii v. Mankichi, 190 U.S. 197 (1903) (grand jury indictment and trial by jury).
  7.  American Ins. Co. v. Canter, 26 U.S. (1 Pet.) 511, 546 (1828). See also Clinton v. Englebrecht, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 434, 447 (1872); Hornbuckle v. Toombs, 85 U.S. (18 Wall.) 648, 655 (1874); Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 154 (1879); The “City of Panama,” 101 U.S. 453, 460 (1880); McAllister v. United States, 141 U.S. 174, 180 (1891); United States v. McMillan, 165 U.S. 504, 510 (1897); Romeu v. Todd, 206 U.S. 358, 368 (1907).
  8.  American Ins. Co. v. Canter, 26 U.S. (1 Pet.) 511, 545 (1828).