Chief Judge Gustavo Gelpí of the District Court of Puerto Rico spoke with Guam attorneys and law students at the Guam Museum on Monday morning, discussing the nebulous relationship between United States territories and the Constitution, just days before the nation celebrates its 242nd birthday. While Gelpí covered a number of constitutional questions, he repeated several times that territories remain in a “constitutionally scary” situation, in which the territories remain at the mercy of Congress. “What Congress giveth, Congress can taketh away,” he said.
Gelpí himself is a perfect example of federal rights in the territories: In 2006, former President George W. Bush appointed Gelpí as a federal judge. Ironically, Gelpí had no say – and still doesn’t – in choosing the person to appoint him, as the court he serves on is the U.S. District Court for Puerto Rico, which, like Guam, is prohibited from voting in presidential elections.
Born and raised in the Caribbean commonwealth, he noted that while living in Massachusetts for law school, he was able to register and vote in federal elections. Then, when he returned to his home territory, he once again lost that right.