Salt Lake citizenship plaintiffs claim ASG and Amata lack standing
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Plaintiffs in the US citizenship lawsuit have asked the federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah to deny a motion by the American Samoa Government and Congresswoman Aumua Amata to intervene in their complaint, arguing among other things that ASG and the Congresswoman lack standing to intervene in this case.
The Movants — ASG and the Congresswoman — on June 8 asked the court to be allowed to intervene in the citizenship lawsuit filed in March this year by three American Samoans — John Fitisemanu, Pale Tuli and Rosavita Tuli — who argue that because they were born in American Samoa, a US territory, they are entitled to citizenship under the 14th Amendment, the Citizenship clause of the US Constitution.
However, the plaintiffs, which include an organization based in Utah, last Friday asked the court to deny the motion to intervene, arguing that the defendants — which includes the US State Department — can properly represent American Samoa’s interest.
The defendants who support intervention by the Movants, have already asked the court to dismiss this case. They contend that any grievance towards US citizenship when it comes to persons born in American Samoa should be directed to the US Congress, which has the authority to define the relationship between territories and the United States. (See Samoa News edition June 15 for details.)
In it’s 17-page motion filed last Friday to deny the Movants request to intervene, the plaintiffs outlined four-detailed specific arguments, including that ASG and the Congresswoman lack standing to intervene in this litigation.
LACKS STANDING TO INTERVENE
To have standing, the plaintiffs argued that an intervenor must possess a cognizable “personal stake” in defending the constitutionality of a statute that “is distinguishable” from the interest of the general populace, according to the plaintiffs, who claimed that the Movants “lack any such stake.”
For example, plaintiffs claim that Movants “have no role—special or otherwise—in the enforcement” of federal law (8 U.S.C 1408) pertaining to nationals but not citizens of the US.
Additionally, the United States is solely “responsible for the issuance of United States passports” and “for the execution and administration of the statutes” at issue here.
Citing a 1986 federal court case, the plaintiffs argued that, a “State has standing to defend the constitutionality of its statute.”
But in this case, “American Samoa is seeking to defend the laws of the United States, not its own laws.”
Plaintiffs also argued that the Movants’ “unsupported fears that the Samoan way of life—fa’a Samoa— ‘may raise complicated legal questions if subjected to scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment’ are entirely speculative and have no connection to this suit.”
That is because, according to the plaintiffs:
• this suit involves the Citizenship Clause, not the Equal Protection Clause;
• Equal Protection Clause protects all “person[s]”—not merely citizens
• the constitutional guarantee of equal protection already applies in unincorporated territories, and
• the core features of fa’a Samoa have already survived strict scrutiny (plaintiffs referred to the 1980 local Appeal’s Court, Craddick v. Territorial Registrar case, on land-alienation restrictions).
As for the Congresswoman, the plaintiffs argued that her “claimed interests do not establish standing either.”
The Movants in its motion to intervene, contend that the plaintiffs are seeking “to undermine Congresswoman Amata’s role as advisor to the U.S. Congress on the important question of Samoan citizenship, nullify her ability to guide legislation through the US House of Representatives on the subject of Samoan citizenship, preclude her from choosing U.S. national status in the future, and may jeopardize her matai standing as Aumua.”
In response, the plaintiffs argued that Amata’s “role as advisor to the U.S. Congress would not be ‘undermine[d]’ by a judgment in Plaintiffs’ favor... as she will not cease to be a non-voting delegate in that event.”
Plaintiffs noted that her office is provided by federal statute and granting citizenship to residents of United States territories “is obviously not inconsistent with having non-voting delegates represent those territories.”
“Moreover, non-voting delegates like Congresswoman Amata have no judicially cognizable right ‘to guide legislation through the House of Representatives’,” they further argued.
“Respectfully, ‘the Constitution does not permit the Delegate from [American Samoa] to exercise legislative power’,” the plaintiffs said citing a 2007 federal court case.
“In any event, ‘a claim that [an] alleged . . . action merely diminishes a legislator’s effectiveness, as perceived by that legislator, is too amorphous an injury to confer standing’,” the plaintiffs noted.
“Congresswoman Amata has no power to cast votes, let alone claim a greater prerogative to standing than could voting members of Congress. Consequently, she lacks standing to defend a law on which she cannot vote,” according to the plaintiffs, adding that the Movants’ motion “must be denied” due to lack of standing.
Samoa News will report later this week on the last three-arguments by plaintiffs.