The Biden administration on Tuesday defended the exclusion of Puerto Rico U.S. citizens from the federal program for the needy and disabled but urged the U.S. Supreme Court to leave alone its much criticized, racially infused decisions of the 1900s denying full constitutional protections to territory residents.

Questions about the so-called Insular Cases arose early in the justices’ arguments in the case, United States v. Vaello-Madero. The administration is appealing a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit that ruled the exclusion of Puerto Rico from the federal Supplemental Security Income program (SSI) violated the Constitution’s command that laws apply equally to everyone.

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