Equally American, a Washington-based lobby group advocating for equality for U.S. territories, has praised the District Court of Guam’s decision upholding the right of Guam residents to get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.
On Friday, Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood issued a decision in favor of Guam resident Katrina Schaller who sued the U.S. Social Security Administration for denying her SSI benefits which her identical twin sister Leslie Schaller is receiving in Pennsylvania.
The two sisters were born with the same degenerative disease but because Katrina is a Guam resident she was deemed not eligible for the same benefits.
In a statement following the court ruling, Equally American President and Founder Neil Weare described the ruling as a big decision for Guam that will help build momentum for similar cases out of Puerto Rico that are likely to soon be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“This important victory highlights both the arbitrariness and the real-world harms when federal laws discriminate against citizens in U.S. territories simply because of where they live,” Weare said.
Weare said Friday’s ruling adds momentum to a building wave of court decisions ruling that federal laws that discriminate against residents of U.S. territories are unconstitutional.
In April, the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in United States v. Vaello Madero that the SSI law’s exclusion of Puerto Rican residents violated the Constitution, setting up a likely Supreme Court battle between the United States and territorial residents like Katrina Schaller who was denied much-needed SSI benefits simply because of where they happen to live in the United States.
The deadline for the United States to appeal the Vaello Madero decision to the Supreme Court is September 7, 2020. The Supreme Court typically grants review when a court decision rules a federal statute unconstitutional.
“No American should have to choose between receiving the benefits they need to survive and being able to live near their family support network. It’s refreshing to see a federal judge rule that this kind of discrimination is not just wrong, but unconstitutional,” Weare concluded.