Plaintiffs in citizenship lawsuit ask court to deny fed motion to dismiss
Based on the “plain language and history of the Fourteenth Amendment” of the U.S. constitution, the American Samoan plaintiffs in its citizenship lawsuit have asked the federal court in Washington D.C to deny the U.S. government’s motion to dismiss the suit.
Lead plaintiff in the suit is local resident Leneuoti Tuaua, who said in a statement over the weekend that, “We know we’re Americans, we should be recognized as citizens as well.”
“Our traditional leaders believed when the U.S. Flag rose over American Samoa in 1900 that citizenship was part of the deal in ceding our lands to the United States. It is time that the United States finally lived up to that part of the deal,” he said.
Plaintiff’s local attorney Charles Alailima said in the same statement that the response to the feds motion is straightforward and noted that as “Supreme Court has already stated, the Citizenship Clause guarantees citizenship throughout the territorial limits of the United States, including U.S. territories.”
“Those born in American Samoa have the same right to citizenship as Americans born anywhere else in the United States,” he said.
Defendants, who are represented by the U.S. Attorney Office, in the suit are U.S. Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton, the State Department and another agency official.
Plaintiffs in their 48-page opposition motion filed late last week, recalled that the defendants asked the court to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
“Whether or not the Citizenship Clause provides birthright citizenship to Plaintiffs is an open question in this Circuit, and there is compelling constitutional text and history, as well as Supreme Court precedent, supporting plaintiffs’ legal theory underlying their claim for relief,” according to the plaintiff's legal team.
In addition, defendants’ assertion that plaintiffs raise a political question profoundly misunderstands the complaint — which makes no argument regarding whether American Samoa should be a state — and contradicts case law cited in defendants’ own motion.
Plaintiffs reiterated that their claim for relief rests on the text of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Citizenship Clause, which provides that “[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States”.
The drafters of the Clause made clear that its guarantee of birthright citizenship “refers to persons everywhere, whether in the States or in the Territories or in the District of Columbia,” plaintiffs argued.
Affirming this text and history, the Supreme Court has declared that the Citizenship Clause “put... at rest” the notion that “[t]hose… who had been born and resided always in the District of Columbia or in the Territories, though within the United States, were not citizens,” it states.
It was just a few years before American Samoa became a territory of the U.S., plaintiffs argued, citing a federal case, that the Supreme Court reiterated that the Citizenship Clause “affirms the ancient and fundamental rule of citizenship by birth within the territory, in the allegiance and under the protection of the country,” and that “[t]he [Fourteenth] amendment, in clear words and in manifest intent, includes the children born within the territory of the United States.”
As the Supreme Court has recently reaffirmed, “[c]onstitutional rights are enshrined with the scope they were understood to have when the people adopted them, whether or not future legislatures or even future judges think that scope too broad”, said the plaintiffs and cited a 2008 federal case at the D.C. court.
“Defendants nonetheless contend that plaintiffs’ arguments are foreclosed by a body of Supreme Court decisions between 1901 and 1922 informally known as the ‘Insular Cases’. But the application of the Citizenship Clause in circumstances such as those raised by the complaint remains an open question in this Circuit,” it says.
Defendants have argued that it is Congress, not the courts, that resolves issues pertaining to those eligible for birthright citizenship in accordance with the Constitution and it is Congress that has authority over the U.S. territories.
However, the plaintiffs disagree, saying that Congress has “no power under the Constitution to legislatively redefine” the meaning of the “United States” in the Citizenship Clause.
“Congress does, of course, have power to make rules and regulations for the territories. But this power is necessarily limited by other constitutional provisions, including the subsequently ratified Citizenship Clause,” they pointed out.
“This Court should reject defendants’ invitation to alter the scope of the Constitution’s guarantee of birthright citizenship, well understood at the time it was adopted and ratified to encompass the entire territorial limits of the United States, including the States and Territories,” it says.
According to the plaintiffs, the defendants had asserted that the court lacks jurisdiction because plaintiffs raise a non-justiciable political question but this “argument fails.”
“Plaintiffs emphatically do not argue that the Court should recognize American Samoa as a state; whether American Samoa should pursue statehood, remain a territory, become independent, or change its official status in any other way is a decision left to the American Samoan people and not at issue in this litigation,” it says.
“But, so long as American Samoa remains part of the United States, as it is now, the Constitution requires that the Defendants respect the birthright citizenship guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs have stated a justiciable claim upon which relief may be granted,” it says.
In tomorrow’s edition, the plaintiffs’ response to Congressman Faleomavaega Eni’s “amicus curiae” (friend of the court) brief supporting the defendants’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit.