What constitutional rights do people living in US territories have?

In this thread, someone said that natural-born residents of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands have the right to run for president. That got me to thinking. If people in territories can run for president, then why can’t they vote in federal elections? Why are there no electors from the territories? We have DC electors, why not a Guam one?

What other limitations on rights do people living in territories have? Are they guaranteed freedom of speech and religion? Do amendments XV and XIX of the Constitution apply to them, or would they be free to restrict voting to a certain class of people? Are Puerto Ricans, Guamanians, and Virgin Islanders considered “full” US citizens?

And how different is the law wrt territory residents as opposed to the law wrt DC residents?

Inhabitants of the “incorporated” territories are citizens, with full Constitutional rights except the right to a Congressman and Senators with a vote (they may send a person to represent them, who is generally granted the privilege of the floor but not vote) and the right to choose electors for President/VP. The “unincorporated” territories have less complete rights – according to SCOTUS only the “fundamental” rights automatically apply to them, though the definition of which rights are “fundamental” has never been explicated except on a case-by-case basis. I’m not clear on which territories are incorporated in this sense; perhaps somebody has a quick reference to that.

The short reason is because the Constitution says that only states may choose electors for President. For DC to get electors, a constitutional amendment was necessary. (#23, if I’m not mistaken.)

The Constitution also says that only states may elect Senators and Representatives. In fact, the Constitution really says nothing about territories at all. Congress governs them directly because they can, and in that respect the territories do not enjoy the sovereignty that states do. Guam and the US Virgin Islands elect Delegates to the House of Representatives (because Congress allows them to) but these guys do not get to vote. Puerto Rico elects a Resident Commissioner, who for reasons that remain mysterious is the only person in Congress to be elected to a four year term. He doesn’t get to vote either. In order for PR or the other territories to get electors or real Representatives and Senators, they would either have to be accepted into the union as states, or there would need to be a constitutional amendment.

At least this part of your question can be given a firm answer–yes, because Puerto Rico did. The government of Puerto Rico didn’t get around to enfranchising women until 1929, nine years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

The legal status of American “territories” underwent a sea change after the Spanish-American War, in which the United States acquired by treaty a cluster of overseas territories which it did not intend to groom for eventual statehood. Cuba and the Phillippines were eventually granted independence, but Puerto Rico and Guam are still with us in a more-or-less permanent legal limbo (as are the Virgin Islands and American Samoa which were acquited at other times). As Polycarp says, these are “unincorporated federal territories” and the application of particular provisions of the Constitution is very much on a case-by-case basis. Congress has applied many of the provisions of the Bill of Rights to these territories by statute, but the Supreme Court has held in Balzac v. Puerto Rico and other cases that they do not attach automatically.

Has there ever been a movement by Puerto Rico (or the others) to change the Constitution so they can get an elector?

Not really, since they can get not one elector but at least three through a far simpler means – statehood. Popular opinion among Puerto Ricans about statehood has been sharply divided in a series of referendums on the topic over several decades.

I don’t know about Puerto Rico, but in US possessions like the Marianas Islands, they’re exempt from federal minimum wage laws, and a lot of garment companies have set up shop there, so that they can slap a “Made in the U. S. A.” label on their sweatshop goods.

OK; first things first:

I can run for President, but I have to do so as a bona fide resident of one of the Several States. Probably have to meet some sort of residency requirement, too.

The Unincorporated Territory, “belonging to, but not part of, the USA” is one of those Great Moments in Judicial Legislation. The Supreme Court in Downes v. Bidwell and later in the aforecited Balzac saved the US Congress the mortification of actually legislating to the effect that the USA could have outright colonies of “others”, as opposed to territories being groomed for eventual statehood, or nominally sovereign nations under “protection” (the Indians).

One important thing to bear in mind that there is no single, unified, coherent Unincorporated Territories and Overseas Possessions Act to define what federal constitutional and statutory rights, burdens and provisions apply or do not apply in the territories, generally.

That probably applies to all the territories.

The US governments can specify what applies to Puerto Rico, Guam, Samoa, the Virgin Islands, and the NMI as it goes along in each general or specific statute, regulation, executive order or court decision. (The usual rule being that all general Federal Laws, except those revenue-related, unless they make a special-case mention of the territories, are in effect unless in themselves inapplicable) Even in the case of the emphatically differentiated "Commonwealths"of PR and the NMI, there is nothing in USC that defines what about a “commonwealth” makes it special. Just the various laws that apply to PR and the NMI, and the use of the term “commonwealth” to refer to their political state.

Thus you get things like:

The US Virgin Islands are a Free Port, outside the US Customs zone (you have to pass customs to get back to the US or PR).

The Marianas, as mentioned, have a general exemption from US labor laws (not just minimum wage but also migrant-labor laws: you can get a visa to work in the NMI that’s no good to work elsewhere in US territory).

The Marianas do NOT get a non-voting delegate to the US House of Representatives. Everyone else does.

BTW, in at least the case of PR, that non-voting delegate got his seat after his office already existed for other purposes because of a rule of the House, it was not legislated that way from the start (he was supposed to be a Resident Commissioner, a sort of consul/head lobbyist/advocate)

The Samoans are NOT US citizens, just “nationals”.

The internal government of Samoa is organized by the Secretary of the Interior and the local legislature, not by an Act of Congress.

The two “commonwealths”(PR and NMI) organize their governments thru constitutions, approved by Congress, but home-drafted by a local assembly.

The remaining two territories have their governments organized by Organic Acts handed down from Congress. (Guam has been trying for 20 years to get its won Commonwealth-sstyle constitution approved, but congress keeps telling them to try again.)

Puerto Rico has its own separate tax structure and collection system, while the other territories use the same structure as the IRS and then the IRS gives back to them what it collected there.

As mentioned before, there have been many instances of the Constitution not following the flag. From my familiar environment (Puerto Rico) we had to independently enact Women’s Suffrage, 18-year-old Suffrage, Prohibition (mostly because it was made clear from DC to the 1921 Legislature that otherwise there would be consequences), jury trials (*) and the writ of Habeas Corpus; all provisions that, at the time, was determined was up to the locals to adopt or not. Apparently, according to an annotation here in my Laws of PR Annotated volume, the Privileges and Immunities clause of the 14th Amendment was interpreted as NOT applying to PR for 30 years after we became US citizens, it took federal legislation to recognize it in 1947.

(*Criminal only. Civil cases are still ALL conducted through bench, rather than jury, trial. I know the States also have latitude in this, but still, the expectation is there)

Is this true in U.S. District Court, or just in the Puerto Rican court system?

For a while it was, but sometime quite a ways back they uniformized it with those in the States. That’s why I commented on how the states DO have flexibility as to how they use juries in their own systems but it’s such a widespread expectation it’s almost as if it were presumed a constitutional requirement.