Ngiraingas v. Sanchez - Oral Argument - January 08, 1990

Ngiraingas v. Sanchez

Media for Ngiraingas v. Sanchez

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 24, 1990 in Ngiraingas v. Sanchez

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 08, 1990 in Ngiraingas v. Sanchez

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 88-1281, Alex Ngiraingas v. Francisco Sanchez.

Mr. Siegel.

Jeffrey R. Siegel:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The issue before the Court today is whether the territory of Guam is liable for deprivations of civil rights.

To answer that question the Court must address one, possibly two other questions.

The first of these is whether the territory is a person for the purpose of the Civil Rights Act, and if it is, whether there is some other form of sovereign immunity which may protect the territory from liability.

Any analysis of the word person in the Dictionary Act must begin with the Dictionary Act.

The Dictionary Act, passed only months before the Civil Rights Act in 1871, defined persons to include bodies politic and corporate.

This Court has ruled in Puerto Rico v. Shell that the territory of Puerto Rico was indeed a body politic, and the Third Circuit has held that the territory of the Virgin Islands was a body politic as well.

Indeed, if we examine the nature of the territory and the self-government invested in the territory by the Organic Act we will find, I think, that... that it makes sense to conclude that territory is indeed a body politic.

There are free elections in the territory.

The citizens of the territory elect their local representatives and congressmen and a non-voting delegate to Congress.

Indeed, there are also local courts, and a quite vibrant and active democracy exists in Guam.

There has been some suggestion, however, that the Dictionary Act is not applicable in defining, or at least has been somewhat diminished in defining the word person.

The first basis on which this has been suggested is the fact that the 1871 act was taken from the 1866 Civil Rights Act, specifically Section 2.

However, Congress, in the intervening period, did pass the Civil Rights Act, and that is persuasive evidence that Congress intended to apply that definition to the word person in Section 1983.

Respondents have argued that the 1874 revision and recodification of laws, and the repeal and reenactment of the Dictionary Act, somehow overrides this Court's finding in Monell that indeed the Dictionary Act is applicable to this term.

I would also suggest that the 1874 Congress could not have effected the intentions of the 1871 Congress when it passed Section 1983.

The second factor this Court relied upon in Monell and finding municipalities to be persons were the broad construction and remedial nature of Section 1983.

I would suggest that these same principles apply to include the territory within the meaning of the word person.

Section 1983 is to be given as broad a construction as possible, and technical definitions should not be used to exclude any body politic from the term person in Section 1983.

William H. Rehnquist:

Did the Court literally say in Monell that Section 1983 was to give... to be given the broadest possible construction?

Jeffrey R. Siegel:

Well, maybe that is overstating it just a bit.

William H. Rehnquist:

It's a strange view, certainly.

Why on earth would you give anything the broadest possible construction?

Jeffrey R. Siegel:

Well, the broadest construction consistent with the terms used.

I think the Court's intention was to not hang the liability or applicability of Section 1983 upon some technical reading of the statute.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, the broadest possible construction, I suppose, would include states.

Jeffrey R. Siegel:

I think there is an argument to be made for that.

However, in Will, and I think the substance of Will is that the interest of federalism in the Eleventh Amendment override that broad construction.