Gomez v. Toledo

PETITIONER: Gomez
RESPONDENT: Toledo
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division

DOCKET NO.: 79-5601
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 446 US 635 (1980)
ARGUED: Apr 16, 1980
DECIDED: May 27, 1980

ADVOCATES:
Federico Cedo Alzamora - on behalf of the Respondent
Federico A. Cedo-Alzamora - for respondent
Michael Avery - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Gomez v. Toledo

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 16, 1980 in Gomez v. Toledo

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Gomez v. Toledo.

Mr. Avery, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Michael Avery:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

This case comes to this Court following the dismissal of Petitioner's 1983 action in which he alleged that he was discharged from public employment in retaliation for a speech on his part which we submit was clearly protected by the First Amendment and without regard to his due process rights to procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Mr. Avery, I wonder if I could ask you a question at the threshold.

Has this Court ever decided that Puerto Rico was a State for purposes of 1983?

Michael Avery:

I don't believe that has been decided by this Court, Mr. Justice Brennan, but the First Circuit has decided that on a number of occasions.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

But has the issue ever been before this Court?

Michael Avery:

Not to my knowledge.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

I take it that it is the kind of issue that we can take cognizance of, isn't it?

If it is not, then I gather --

Michael Avery:

It is a basic jurisdictional issue.

It is not disputed by any of the parties in the case.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

I appreciate that.

Michael Avery:

And I know of no argument that has been presented --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Well, what has been the rationale of the First Circuit, to suggest that it is a State.

Byron R. White:

As you are aware, this Court has held that the District of Columbia is not a State for purposes of 1983.

And at least I take it constitutionally Puerto Rico is a Territory, isn't it?

Michael Avery:

It is not a territory in a strict constitutional sense but it has been treated as such by the First Circuit.

It has a sort of unique Commonwealth status arising from the Organic Act earlier in this --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Well, that isn't a constitutional matter though, is it?

Congress has created something called a Commonwealth but I suppose for the purposes of the Constitution it is a territorial clause that applies, isn't it?

Michael Avery:

That would be our position with regard to the application of 1983, yes, sir.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

What has the First Circuit said is the basis for a conclusion that actions against Puerto Rican officials lie under 1983?

Michael Avery:

As I recall -- and you do catch me somewhat off guard, Mr. Justice Brennan -- the argument that has been made in this case is that the Constitution must have meaning within the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico since it is under our jurisdiction.

And that 1983 is the method for enforcing that.

Warren E. Burger:

We said that in the Fourth Amendment case, didn't we?

Michael Avery:

That may very well be.

Warren E. Burger:

Not that it is a State, but that the Constitution is applicable.

Michael Avery:

But didn't we also say in the opinion written for the Court by Mr. Justice Brennan covering the District of Columbia that Congress enacted 1983 because it thought that State legislatures would be considerably less receptive to Federal constitutional rights than Congress itself and that since Congress itself legislated for the District of Columbia, the District of Columbia was not a State for purposes of 1983.