(ReliableNews.org) – When a US citizen becomes disabled, reaches a certain age, or is blind, they have the option of applying for Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) to help them make ends meet. Unfortunately for Jose Luis Vaello-Madero, the benefit only extends to those living in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Northern Mariana Islands. So, when he moved to Puerto Rico from New York and continued to collect benefits, the federal government sued him for a little over $28,000 that he collected from SSI.
Now, the Supreme Court must decide whether it’s constitutional to deny the disabled American based solely on where he chose to reside.
The Vaello-Madero Case
The Justice Department used the rational basis test to defend its position to recall the money the welfare system paid out to Vaello-Madero during his time outside the United States. Courts use this test to determine if a statute violates the constitution. In 1938, the case of the United States vs. Carolene Products found economic legislation “is not to be pronounced unconstitutional,” which is the argument the DOJ used in this case.
The defendant’s attorney alleges excluding Americans living in Puerto Rico violates the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection for all citizens. He argued the rational basis test should not apply to the Vaello-Madero suit. The defendant’s case outlined that, although Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, the people who live there receive unequal treatment under the constitution. However, the federal government argued the equal protection clause does not apply to residents of Puerto Rico.
The Court’s Position
Upon hearing the case, the First Circuit Court of Appeals concluded there was no rational basis for excluding Vaello-Madero from receiving SSI benefit payments, going against a 48-year history of discrimination against the people of the annexed island. The federal government appealed to the Supreme Court to reverse the decision, arguing the constitution gives Congress the right to treat the residents of Puerto Rico differently under national welfare laws.
If SCOTUS reverses the court’s decision, it will essentially open the door for the government to treat Americans living on the island less favorably than those citizens residing in the states or other territories. The Supreme Court case started on November 9. Given the statute, the US Constitution, and citizens’ rights under the law, should the government be able to recover the $28,000 from Vaello-Madero? What do you think?
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