Eni: Citizenship suit ignores consequences to culture
Congressman Faleomavaega Eni contends that plaintiffs in the citizenship lawsuit have ignored the “anomalous and potentially disruptive consequences for the people and culture of American Samoa that would result from a judicial determination that American Samoans are automatically United States citizens” under the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
This was part of Faleomavaega’s response to the plaintiffs’ motion for the federal court in Washington D.C. to deny the defendants’ request to dismiss the complaint.
Defendants are U.S. Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton, the State Department and a senior department official. Local resident Leneuoti Tuaua is the lead plaintiff in lawsuit, along with others. (See yesterday’s edition for part one of Faleomavaega’s response to plaintiff’s opposing motion to defendants’ request to dismiss the case.)
PEOPLE AND CULTURE
Faleomavaega’s attorney Michael P. Williams pointed out that the Congressman was asked to participate as amicus“because he believes, as countless other Samoans have stated during the past century, that the people of American Samoa should determine their status within the political system” of the U.S.
“The Samoan people are dedicated to preserving fa’a Samoa” and like Faleomavaega, many Samoans are “gravely troubled as to whether the ‘equal protection of laws’ doctrine implicit in citizenship would not conflict with the ‘Samoan land for Samoans’ doctrine and the mataisystem”.
“These concerns are of paramount importance for the Samoan people. With respect and gratitude to the esteemed participants in this case, the significance to American Samoa of these concerns is so great that they should not be resolved through the arguments of various lawyers in Washington, D.C,” he said.
With this consideration in mind, said Williams, the court should reject plaintiffs’ claim that Faleomavaega’s expression of concern for the preservation of fa’a Samoa“should have no place in the Court’s analysis” of this lawsuit.
He also argued there is no principle of law that requires the Court to ignore the potential harm that would result from acceding to plaintiffs’ request to change the status of U.S. nationals in American Samoa.
He emphasized that the American Samoan people have “not”decided to change their status as U.S. nationals, who have rejected options such as independence, incorporation within the U.S., and “commonwealth status” akin to Puerto Rico in favor of remaining an unincorporated territory. (He cited the source of this information from the 1979 political study commission to the Fono.)
This is because the current status, under which American Samoans remain U.S. nationals, “honors and protects the traditional social structure”, he said and noted that as U.S. nationals, there has been no question that “Samoans have been able to retain control over their communal lands and the ‘matai’ system has been preserved.”
But if the political status of the American Samoan people were to change, “such that the United States Constitution had full force and effect, these two bases of traditional Samoan society might well be undercut,” he argued.
Williams went on to argue that plaintiffs simply do not address the many other ways that changing the status of the American Samoan people could have unanticipated and potentially harmful effects on Samoan culture and society.
According to the attorney, Samoan culture is extraordinarily vibrant, and it would be impossible to list all of the ways that fa’a Samoamakes life in American Samoa different from life in the U.S.
For purposes of illustration, however, the Samoan curfew provides an example of a traditional practice that has attracted attention in legal scholarship, he said and noted that curfew is an accepted and well-established aspect of Samoan life, but such a practice might be viewed in U.S. courts as raising various questions of constitutional law.
“A change in the legal status of U.S nationals in American Samoa, brought about by the intervention of a federal court, could make litigation over the lawfulness of the curfew more likely,” he argued.
Williams rejects plaintiffs’ argument that the Congressman is trying “to deny his own constituents recognition of their birthright U.S. citizenship.”
“Faleomavaega merely submits that the changes to Samoan society requested by these plaintiffs would be more properly pursued through the political processes open to the people of American Samoa, not through litigation in the federal courts,” he argued.
Defendants, thru the U.S. Attorney’s Office last week also filed their response to plaintiffs’ request to deny the motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Defendants argued that the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution provides, in pertinent part, that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
“American Samoa, however, is specifically designated as an outlying possession of the United States,” said defense attorneys, who cited provisions of federal law and other relevant statutes.
“Persons born to non U.S. citizen parents in an outlying possession of the United States on or after the possession’s date of acquisition by the United States are nationals but not U.S. citizens at birth,” the government argued.
Designating such persons as nationals but not citizens of the U.S. does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment because, as numerous courts have held, the phrase “the United States” does not include the territories of the United States and, therefore, Plaintiffs’ claims fail as a matter of law, the motion states.
This week Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon heard oral arguments on the motion to dismiss the complaint. Plaintiffs’ local attorney Charles Alailima, who attended the hearing in D.C. said the matter has since been taken under advisement by Leon “and we expect a decision sometime in the future.”
The oral argument “highlighted the many reasons why American Samoans deserve to be treated as other Americans when it comes to citizenship. It is clear that after [the] hearing Judge Leon is taking our claims seriously, noting at the end of the argument that we presented a ‘truly novel and interesting claim’,” Alailima said after the hearing via e-mail from the nation’s capital.
There was no reaction from defendant’s attorneys or Faleomavaega.