The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit heard oral arguments Friday in Segovia v. United States, an equal protection challenge by plaintiffs in Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands who would be able to absentee vote for President and voting representation in Congress if they lived in other U.S. territories or a foreign country, but are denied such rights based solely on their ZIP code. The Appeals Court panel consisted of Judge David Hamilton, Judge Ilana Rovner, and Judge Daniel Manion. Oral argument will be posted online. Earlier this week, the Trump Department of Justice filed a last-minute letter with the court arguing that the remedy to any equal protection violation should be to strip away statutorily provided voting rights that are already guaranteed to residents of certain territories.
At oral argument, Hamilton asked several questions about remedy. As plaintiffs explained in its response to DOJ and at argument, the Supreme Court has never “leveled down” as a remedy to an equal protection violation in voting rights cases, and the Seventh Circuit shouldn’t do so here.
With respect to the federal and state defendants’ arguments that territories can each be treated differently with respect to voting rights, Rovner expressed skepticism to the idea that “being treated differently” can itself be a justification for being treated differently. Plaintiffs argued in court there was simply no justification to expand absentee voting rights to the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa, and foreign countries, while denying them in Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
None of the judges raised the Insular Cases during oral argument.