Unincorporated territories of the United States
Under United States law, an unincorporated territory is an area controlled by the United States government which is not part of (i.e., "incorporated" in) the United States. In unincorporated territories the U.S. Constitution applies only partially. In the absence of an organic law a territory is classified as unorganized. In unincorporated territories "fundamental rights apply as a matter of law, but other constitutional rights are not available". Selected constitutional provisions apply depending on congressional acts and judicial rulings according to U.S. constitutional practice, local tradition and law.
There are five inhabited US territories which are either organized or self-governing, but unincorporated. These are Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana islands, U.S. Virgin islands and American Samoa.
All modern inhabited territories under the control of the federal government can be considered as part of the "United States" for purposes of law as defined in specific legislation; but, the judicial term "unincorporated" was coined to legitimize the U.S. late 19th-century territorial acquisition without citizenship and their administration without constitutional protections temporarily until Congress made other provisions. The case law allowed Congress to impose discriminatory tax regimes with the effect of a protective tariff upon territorial regions which were not domestic states.
From 1901 to 1905, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a series of opinions known as the Insular Cases, held that the Constitution extended ex proprio vigore (i.e., of its own force) to the continental territories. However, the Court in these cases also established the doctrine of territorial incorporation, under which the Constitution applies fully only in incorporated territories such as Alaska and Hawaii, and applies only partially in the new unincorporated territories of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.
The United States District Court is not a true United States court established under article 3 of the Constitution to administer the judicial power of the United States therein conveyed. It is created by virtue of the sovereign congressional faculty, granted under article 4, 3, of that instrument, of making all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory belonging to the United States. The resemblance of its jurisdiction to that of true United States courts, in offering an opportunity to nonresidents of resorting to a tribunal not subject to local influence, does not change its character as a mere territorial court.
Upon like considerations, Article III has been viewed as inapplicable to courts created in unincorporated territories outside the mainland, Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244, 266–267; Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298, 312–313; cf. Dorr v. United States, 195 U.S. 138, 145, 149, and to the consular courts established by concessions from foreign countries, In re Ross, 140 U.S. 453, 464–465, 480. 18
"The inhabitants of the ceded territory ... shall be admitted to the enjoyment of all the rights, advantages, and immunities of citizens of the United States;" "This declaration, although somewhat changed in phraseology, is the equivalent, as pointed out in Downes v. Bidwell, of the formula, employed from the beginning to express the purpose to incorporate acquired territory into the United States, especially in the absence of other provisions showing an intention to the contrary." Here we see that the act of incorporation is on the people of the territory, not on the territory per se, by extending the privileges and immunities clause of the Constitution to them.
List of unincorporated territories
|Territory||Population||Area (km2)||Area (sq mi)||Region|
|American Samoa||55,519||197.1 km2||75.1 sq mi||Pacific|
|Guam||159,358||541.3 km2||209.0 sq mi||Pacific|
|Northern Mariana Islands||53,883||463.63 km2||179.01 sq mi||Pacific|
|Puerto Rico||3,474,182||9,104 km2||3,515 sq mi||Caribbean|
|United States Virgin Islands||109,750||346.36 km2||133.73 sq mi||Caribbean|
|Baker Island||Uninhabited||2.1 km2||0.8 sq mi||Pacific|
|Howland Island||Uninhabited||1.8 km2||0.7 sq mi||Pacific|
|Jarvis Island||Uninhabited||4.5 km2||1.7 sq mi||Pacific|
|Johnston Atoll||Uninhabited||2.67 km2||1.03 sq mi||Pacific|
|Kingman Reef||Uninhabited||76 km2||29 sq mi||Pacific|
|Midway Atoll (administered as a National Wildlife Refuge)||Uninhabited||6.2 km2||2.4 sq mi||Pacific|
|Navassa Island (disputed with Haiti)||Uninhabited||5.2 km2||2.0 sq mi||Caribbean|
|Wake Island||Uninhabited||7.38 km2||2.85 sq mi||Pacific|
|Total||4,085,200||12,272.24 km2||4,738.34 sq mi|
- Panama Canal Zone – administered directly by the U.S. government 1903–1979; jointly administered with Panama 1979–1999; reverted to Panama beginning on December 31, 1999
- Philippines – administered directly by the U.S. government 1898–1901; insular government 1901–1935; commonwealth 1935–1946; independent since July 4, 1946
- Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands – administered by the U.S. under United Nations trusteeship 1947–1986
- August 28, 1867
- April 11, 1899
The Treaty of Paris of 1898 came into effect, transferring Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico from Spain to the United States, all three becoming unorganized, unincorporated territories. Puerto Rico's official name was changed to Porto Rico, a phonetic reinterpretation of the Spanish name for the territory.
- April 12, 1900
- June 7, 1900
- April 1, 1901
General Emilio Aguinaldo, the Filipino leader in the Philippine–American War and President of the Malolos Republic, surrendered to the United States, allowing the latter to form a civilian government.
- February 23, 1903
- August 29, 1916
- March 2, 1917
- March 31, 1917
- May 17, 1932
- March 24, 1934
- July 4, 1946
The United States recognized Philippine independence.
- July 14, 1947
The United Nations granted the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands to the United States, consisting primarily of many islands fought over during World War II, and including what is now the Marshall Islands, the Carolina Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Northern Mariana Islands, and Palau. It was a trusteeship, and not a territory of the United States.
- August 5, 1947
The Privileges and Immunities Clause regarding the rights, privileges, and immunities of citizens of the United States was expressly extended to Puerto Rico by the U.S. Congress through the federal law codified on the Title 48 the United States Code as 48 U.S.C. § 737 and signed by President Harry S. Truman. This law indicates that the rights, privileges, and immunities of citizens of the United States shall be respected in Puerto Rico to the same extent as though Puerto Rico were a State of the Union and subject to the provisions of paragraph 1 of section 2 of article IV of the Constitution of the United States.
- July 1, 1950
- July 25, 1952
- July 22, 1954
- July 1, 1967
- September 12, 1967
Article Three of the United States Constitution, was expressly extended to the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico by the U.S. Congress through the federal law 89-571, 80 Stat. 764, this law was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
- January 1, 1978
- October 21, 1986
The Marshall Islands attained independence from the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, though the trusteeship granted by the United Nations technically did not end until December 22, 1990. The Marshall Islands remained in free association with the United States.
- November 3, 1986
- December 22, 1990
- May 25, 1994
The United Nations terminated the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands for the Palau district, ending the territory, making Palau de facto independent, as it was not a territory of the United States.
- October 1, 1994
- December 11, 2012
The Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico has enacted a concurrent resolution to request the President and the Congress of the United States to respond diligently and effectively, and to act on the demand of the people of Puerto Rico, as freely and democratically expressed in the plebiscite held on November 6, 2012, to end, once and for all, its current form of territorial status and to begin the process to admit Puerto Rico to the Union as a State.
- Territories of the United States
- Political divisions of the United States
- Insular area
- Political status of Puerto Rico
- Unparished area
- Unincorporated area
- Unorganized territory
- ^1 Scholars agreed as of 2009 in the Boston College Law Review, "Regardless of how Puerto Rico looked in 1901 when the Insular Cases were decided, or in 1922, today, Puerto Rico seems to be the paradigm of an incorporated territory as modern jurisprudence understands that legal term of art". In November 2008 a district court judge ruled that a sequence of prior Congressional actions had the cumulative effect of changing Puerto Rico's status to incorporated.
- U.S. Insular Areas Application of the U.S. Constitution, GAO Nov 1997 Report, p. 24. Viewed June 14, 2013.
- American Samoa remains technically unorganized since the U.S. Congress has not passed an Organic Act for the territory, but American Samoa is self-governing under a constitution that became effective on July 1, 1967.
- "Puerto Rico - territories of the United States". https://www.usa.gov/state-government/puerto-rico. Government of the United States of America. Retrieved 8 December 2016. External link in
- Definitions of insular area political organizations, "Unincorporated territory". Viewed June 14, 2013, and Government Accountability Office (GAO) Nov 1997 Report, U.S. Insular Areas Application of the U.S. Constitution, p. 35. Viewed June 14, 2013.
- See 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(36) and 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(38) Providing the term "State" and "United States" definitions on the U.S. Federal Code, Immigration and Nationality Act. 8 U.S.C. § 1101a
- Vignarajah, Krishanti. Political roots of judicial legitimacy: explaining the enduring validity of the ‘Insular Cases’., University of Chicago Law Review, 2010, p. 790. Viewed June 13, 2013.
- Consejo de Salud Playa de Ponce v. Johnny Rullan, Secretary of Health of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico pp. 6–7. Viewed June 19, 2013.
- The Insular Cases: The Establishment of a Regime of Political Apartheid (2007) Juan R. Torruella (PDF), retrieved February 5, 2010
- Balzac v. People of Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298 (1922)
- Rassmussen v. U S, 197 U.S. 516 (1905)
- "U.S. Census Bureau Releases 2010 Census Population Counts for Guam". 2010 Census. US Census. August 24, 2011. Archived from the original on September 24, 2011. Retrieved September 12, 2010.
- Midway Islands History. Janeresture.com. Retrieved on July 19, 2013.
- The World Almanac & Book of Facts 1901, p93
- "Transfer Day". Archived from the original on June 28, 2007. Retrieved August 10, 2006.
- "Municipalities of Puerto Rico". Statoids. Retrieved August 10, 2006.
- [dead link]"Relationship with the Insular Areas". U.S. Department of the Interior. Archived from the original on May 26, 2006. Retrieved August 10, 2006.
- "Municipalities of Northern Mariana Islands". Statoids. Retrieved August 10, 2006.
- "Background Note: Palau". Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Retrieved August 10, 2006.
- The Senate and the House of Representative of Puerto Rico Concurrent Resolution
- Lawson, Gary, and Sloane, Robert. Puerto Rico’s legal status reconsidered, p. 53. Viewed June 21, 2013.
- Consejo de Salud Playa Ponce v. Johnny Rullan, p. 28: "The Congressional incorporation of Puerto Rico throughout the past century has extended the entire Constitution to the island ...."