Eni files brief supporting dismissal of lawsuit
In his “amicus curiae” (friend of the court) brief, Congressman Faleomavaega Eni is supporting the U.S. Attorney’s Office request to the federal court in Washington D.C. to dismiss the citizenship lawsuit, led by local resident Leneuoti F. Tuaua and five others, along with a California-based Samoan organization.
The suit names U.S. Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton, the State Department and another agency official as defendants.
Faleomavaega’s 18-page brief was filed Wednesday by the attorney Michael F. Williams with the Washington D.C. law firm of Kirkland & Ellis, who is doing the work pro bono.
Williams says Faleomavaega submitted this brief with the hope that his views on plaintiffs’ claim for U.S. citizenship will assist the federal court in its resolution of this matter, and supports the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case.
SUPREME COURT PRECEDENT
In the brief, Williams pointed out that more than a century ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution does not extend birthright citizenship to U.S. nationals who are born in unincorporated territories, and this includes American Samoa.
Through the years, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed this principle, noting that individuals who are born in an unincorporated territory, though “subject to the jurisdiction of the United States,” are “American nationals” who are not birthright citizens of the United States, said Williams citing federal cases.
Since the Supreme Court settled the matter more than a century ago, no federal court has ever awarded U.S. citizenship to an American national based solely on a claim that the Citizenship Clause extends to unincorporated territories of the United States, the brief said.
Williams also said that in a series of decisions known as the Insular Cases, the Supreme Court held that the term “United States” as used in the Constitution does not extend geographically to every territory subject to the jurisdiction, or under the dominion of the U.S.
These cases held that the Constitution applies fully within “incorporated” territories that eventually may become states, but only applies in part to “unincorporated” territories that are not necessarily on the path to statehood, he contends.
Williams argued that the issue of whether American Samoans should be eligible for birthright citizenship presents a matter for Congress, not the courts, to resolve. Additionally, the Constitution vests in Congress plenary authority over the territories of the United States. Furthermore, Congress has authority over naturalization policy, including whether or not citizenship should be extended to territorial nationals.
He said the power of Congress to legislate on matters relating to citizenship extends to the Founding of the republic and has frequently been used both to grant and to restrict access to citizenship, both within the sovereign territory of the United States and abroad.
He also argued that without having ever established citizenship for American Samoans, Congress provided that American Samoan nationals are non-citizen nationals under U.S. naturalization law.
According to the brief, “American Samoa has a mechanism for seeking citizenship if that is the will of its people: Congress can enact legislation extending birthright citizenship to the territory.”
“The entire history of citizenship in the overseas territories is one of congressional authority, and this arrangement makes sense. Recognizing that Congress is the proper branch of government to resolve any question relating to American Samoan citizenship comports with fundamental democratic values,” said Williams.
“Moreover, Congress is more likely to reach a solution, if needed, that is tailored to the interests of the Samoan people, respectful of American Samoan self-governance, and protective of American Samoa’s unique cultural heritage.
Congress’s regulation of citizenship in American Samoa is particularly appropriate given the history of the United States’ relationship with American Samoa, said Williams, adding that unlike many other overseas territories, the U.S accepted sovereignty over American Samoa with the consent of the Samoan authorities.
This mutually-established relationship between the two nations counsels further in favor of legislative solutions, which may account for the will of American Samoan people, as determined through the political process, he said.
Williams argued that the problems with establishing birthright citizenship by judicial fiat would be particularly acute in the case of American Samoa. He says a court ruling that all American Samoans are citizens under the Fourteenth Amendment “would have an unintended and potentially harmful impact upon American Samoan society.”
He explained that there are core precepts of Samoan culture – known as fa’a Samoa – that have guided the Samoan people and sustained Samoan culture for centuries.
Many of the traditional aspects of fa’a Samoa, such as restrictions on the alienation of communal land, may raise complicated legal questions if these well-accepted cultural practices are subjected to Fourteenth Amendment scrutiny, he said.
But in declaring their allegiance to the United States in the Treaties of Cession, the people of American Samoa insisted upon a relationship with the federal government that would preserve their unique cultural and historical identity, he pointed out.
“The plaintiffs’ claims to birthright citizenship would only disrupt a series of agreements that have served both the United States and American Samoa well for more than a century,” he said.
“...plaintiffs’ lawsuit, while ostensibly seeking to vindicate the rights of certain American nationals, would actually deny tens of thousands of American Samoans their right to live under a long-standing political arrangement that respected their cultural autonomy,” he said.
“Though the plaintiffs have framed this case as one seeking rights for individual Samoans, imposition of citizenship by judicial decision would chip away at the right of the Samoan people, in cooperation with Congress, to govern their own affairs,” he said.
In closing, Williams cited a scholar saying: “To deny to American insular residents the validity of their choice of their own political arrangements — when they have had freedom of speech and press for their entire lives — may itself be the ultimate colonial mentality.”