Stafford Act, Hurricane Maria, intersectionality, equal protection, U.S. Supreme Court case, constitutional norms, civil rights, FEMA workers' training, disaster aid


The 200th anniversary of the 1819 Supreme Court decision McCulloch v. Maryland offers scholars a special opportunity to study the shortcomings of the federal The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, as they were revealed by FEMA’s failures in Puerto Rico during and after Hurricane Maria. Under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, as it has been interpreted by McCulloch, a law passed by Congress must be necessary and proper for executing its powers. In light of the expansive capacities allotted for disaster relief under the Stafford Act, and the catastrophic failure of FEMA to provide meaningful aid to vulnerable populations in Puerto Rico in the Fall of 2017, scholars of race and class justice are faced with a melancholy-inducing reminder: Even a well-drafted law passed by Congress for the betterment of the general welfare may be “necessary,” but not rise to the level of “proper.” Meaningfully, the test for propriety here grows out of by McCulloch’s demand that laws cohere to the “letter and spirit” of the Constitution, as well as anti-subordination interpretations of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments that require equal protection to be pursued in light of the lived experience of vulnerable and minority populations.