U.S. Insular Areas:

Applicability of Relevant Provisions of the U.S. Constitution

HRD-91-18: Published: Jun 20, 1991. Publicly Released: Jun 20, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the applicability of relevant constitutional provisions to five insular areas, focusing on: (1) congressional representation; (2) the Uniformity Clause; (3) the Commerce Clause; (4) presidential election; (5) trial by jury; (6) the Equal Protection Clause; and (7) voting rights.

GAO found that: (1) the insular areas, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, can not elect representatives or senators since they were not states, but four of the insular areas elect nonvoting members to the U.S. House of Representatives; (2) the Uniformity Clause, which requires certain taxes imposed by Congress, does not apply to Puerto Rico, and most likely would not apply to the other four areas; (3) court decisions on the Commerce clause giving Congress the power to regulate commerce between the United States and foreign nations have been inconsistent; (4) residents of insular areas can not vote in presidential elections, but four of the five areas participate in the presidential nomination process, which is not governed by the constitution; (5) the courts reached different conclusions on the applicability of the sixth and seventh amendments, addressing the right to trial by jury, to the insular areas; (6) the Equal Protection Clause applies to Puerto Rico, and federal laws extend the clause to the other three insular areas; (7) the amendments that prohibit denying U.S. citizens the right to vote on the basis of race, color, previous condition of servitude, and sex apply to Puerto Rico, and federal laws extend it to three insular areas, but its applicability to American Samoa has never been addressed by Congress; (8) all of the areas have laws allowing those 18 years of age and older to vote; and (9) the Virgin Islands is the only area still required by federal law to follow the Internal Revenue Code.