Attorney: Eni’s amicus brief “fundamentally misplaced”

An effort to deny his own constituents recognition of birthright citizenship

The local attorney for the plaintiffs in the citizenship lawsuit before the federal court in Washington D.C. disagrees with Congressman Faleomavaega Eni’s ‘amicus curiae’ brief, which supports the U.S. government request to dismiss the suit led by local resident Leneuoti F. Tuaua.

In the plaintiffs’ 48-page response to the federal government’s move to dismiss the case, also included is their reply to the Congressman’s brief.

The plaintiffs’ attorney wrote, “Simply put, despite the efforts of Amicus to suggest otherwise, this case presents the issue of the applicability of the Citizenship Clause to persons born in American Samoa, nothing more and nothing less.”

Addressing the Congressman's concerns regarding Samoan land and culture, attorney Charles Ala'ilima says the federal courts in the case of the Puailoa family and federal judges who sat in the American Samoa High Court have already recognized the fundamental importance of preserving Samoan custom, land and culture.

“In any event, as our forefathers recognized in 1930, citizenship is separate from the preservation of our land and culture,” he said in a statement over the weekend. “I believe the very strength of the fa'a Samoa is that it transcends any communal family member's citizenship in any particular country.”

“I do not know how the Congressman's communal family does it, but no one in my large communal Samoan family ever checks passports when we have our fa'alavelaves,” said Alailima.


“In a final bid to avoid the powerful guarantees of the Citizenship Clause, the government suggests — and Amicus Curiae Congressman Faleomavaega explicitly asserts— that Congress, working with American Samoans, should determine whether or not American Samoans are U.S. citizens regardless of the Constitution’s Citizenship Clause,” plaintiffs say.

“But in doing so, Amicus elides the difference between American Samoans’ unquestioned right to determine their political status — that is, whether or not to be a part of the United States — and the Constitution’s guarantee of birthright citizenship for those who are born in the United States, which applies to American Samoa so long as it remains a U.S. territory,” they say.

The former is rightfully placed within the political process. The latter is placed by the Constitution outside of the political process — it is a constitutionally guaranteed individual right not granted at the whim of Congress,” the motion states and cited certain records of the 39th Congress.

According to the plaintiffs, Faleomavaega’s amicus brief is “an effort to deny his own constituents recognition of their birthright U.S. citizenship”. Additional, the brief presents legal arguments that are duplicative of those made by the government. Further, the brief presents “policy” arguments about potential collateral consequences of this case, arguments that cannot properly form the basis for dismissing important constitutional claims at all, let alone on the pleadings.

“But even if the Court could properly entertain them, Amicus’s policy arguments are fundamentally misplaced,” the plaintiffs state, noting, too, that the amicus does not dispute that the plaintiffs and other American Samoans denied birthright citizenship are harmed by that denial.

“Rather, Amicus fears that applying the Citizenship Clause to persons born in American Samoa might someday bring about a fulsome application of other, unrelated portions of the Constitution — the requirements of equal protection — creating ‘unintended and potentially harmful effects on important aspects of Samoan culture’, in particular, laws restricting alienation of real property to non-Samoans,” the plaintiffs claimed.

However, Amicus ignores the fact that American Samoa’s highest court has already held — in an opinion authored by a federal judge sitting by designation of the Interior Secretary — that the constitutional requirement of equal protection for all persons applies in American Samoa, and that it does so regardless of American Samoa’s status as an ‘unorganized’ or ‘unincorporated’ territory,” according to the plaintiffs, who cited a 1980 local court case, Craddick vs. Territorial Registrar.

Moreover, in this same case, the “High Court... upheld the constitutionality of the very land ownership restrictions that Amicus warns might be thrown into doubt by the instant litigation.”

Applying strict scrutiny, the High Court held in Craddick that “the Territory of American Samoa has demonstrated a compelling state interest in preserving the lands of American Samoa for Samoans and in preserving the Fa’a Samoa, or Samoan culture,” and that the restrictions were “necessary to the safeguarding of these interests”, the plaintiffs quoted from the Craddick case.

According to the plaintiffs, Amicus’ concern that a ruling for the Plaintiffs in this case might subject “restrictions preventing the alienation of Samoan land… to the most exacting scrutiny,”  overlooks the fact that those restrictions have already been subject to the most exacting scrutiny — and passed muster.

“To the extent there remain any equal protection concerns over cultural preservation laws in American Samoa, these concerns exist today and are separate and apart from the question of citizenship,” the plaintiffs state.

“Amicus’s misplaced ‘policy’ arguments should have no place in this Court’s analysis of whether Plaintiffs have pleaded sufficient claims under the Citizenship Clause...”, they said.

Defendants in the lawsuit are Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton, the State Department and another senior department official.

(See yesterday’s edition on plaintiff’s response to the government motion for dismissal).


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