Justia Summary

The U.S. Constitution’s Territory Clause states that Congress may “make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory . . . belonging to the United States.” In exercising its broad authority, Congress has maintained different federal tax and benefits programs for residents of the Territories than for residents of the states. For example, residents of Puerto Rico are typically exempt from most federal income, gift, estate, and excise taxes but not every federal benefits program extends to residents of Puerto Rico. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applies only to residents of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, 42 U. S. C. 1382c(a)(1)(B)(i).

Madero received SSI benefits while a resident of New York. He moved to Puerto Rico, where he was no longer eligible to receive those benefits. Unaware of Madero’s new residence, the government continued to pay him SSI benefits but eventually sued to recover more than $28,000. Madero argued that Congress’s exclusion of residents of Puerto Rico from the SSI program violated the equal-protection component of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. The district court and the First Circuit agreed.

The Supreme Court reversed. The Constitution does not require Congress to extend SSI benefits to residents of Puerto Rico. The Court applied the deferential rational-basis test. Congress’s decision to exempt Puerto Rico’s residents from most federal income, gift, estate, and excise taxes supplies a rational basis for distinguishing residents of Puerto Rico from residents of the states for purposes of the SSI benefits program.