Local Bar Association will closely monitor CAC plan
The American Samoa Bar Association has not taken a position but will closely monitor the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC) plan to challenge in federal court the federal law that does not allow persons born in American Samoa to become automatic U.S. citizens.
On the other hand, Gov. Togiola Tulafono has told Samoans soldiers based in Fort Lewis, Washington not to rush into supporting the CAC’s proposal, because of the impact it may have on our land, titles, and culture.
CAC litigation and policy counsel Neil Weare was in the territory until last Thursday and he met with the Bar Association regarding this particular issue, as the Washington D.C. based think tank group is planning to file a federal suit on behalf of American Samoans here and in the U.S.
The CAC’s plan was first revealed last month by Congressman Faleomavaega Eni who wrote to the group opposing such a lawsuit, saying that this issue should be decided by the people of American Samoa, not a federal court.
ASBA president Sean Morrison says the meeting with Weare was “nice” and it was an “informal chat regarding the case, the legal arguments, and some of the work he (Weare) has been doing.”
“We had a very frank and informative discussion regarding the potential legal implications of such a case and what could change for people on the ground,” said Morrison responding to Samoa News inquiries about the meeting with Weare. “It also highlighted a lot of misconceptions regarding citizenship that are prevalent in the territory, but also a lot of fears that are very real.”
Morrison, who is also a local Assistant Attorney General, explained that the “CAC case attempts to consider American Samoa as part of the United States for purposes of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, which declares anyone born in the United States to be a U.S. Citizen. We call this constitutional citizenship.”
In the territories of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, Congress has created laws that declare them to be citizens and this “is statutory citizenship,” he said.
“CAC's case would also extend to Guam and CNMI, to make all those born in the territories constitutional citizens. However, section 1 of the 14th Amendment also contains the equal protection clause and the due process clause,” he said.
“Fundamentally, this would require a challenge to the Insular cases, those Supreme Court decisions from the early 1900's that laid the basis for the legal status of the territories,” he said. “Those cases have been under attack in academic circles for decades, and recent decisions have suggested maybe a rethinking by the courts on the underlying rationale for the Insular cases.”
He said it’s difficult to state a Bar Association position on this case, as the true impact of such a decision is not clear to anyone.
“The real question is — how much of the 14th Amendment will apply to the territories, and what impact that may have on existing policies,” he said. “However, the Bar Association will be watching this case very closely and will be reviewing the progress. We will be attempting to analyze some of the potential impacts in the coming months.”
Two local attorneys, both non-Samoans, told Samoa News that they are supportive of Faleomavaega’s opposition to any federal suit and to leave this issue to be decided by the people in American Samoa.
“I truly believe that American Samoa as a whole territory and a people, should fully review this matter now and make their voices heard before this case actually makes it to the federal court,” said one of the two attorneys, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, with Samoa News. “And local concern over the impact on culture, land and title if such a case is ruled in favor of CAC is real.”
Speaking on his radio program, Togiola said that he made a stopover early this month to visit our Toa o Samoa based at Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base in Washington, where he attended church services and held discussions with the soldiers.
He said one of the issues raised by the soldiers is citizenship for U.S. Nationals and the soldiers supported the citizenship issue raised by the CAC, whose official was in the territory.
Togiola says he informed the soldiers and their families that if they want to be U.S. citizens, to do so, but he urged them not to push or rush into any decision to have persons born in American Samoa become automatic U.S. citizens, because that may have some serious affect on the future of American Samoa dealing with land, titles and culture.