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Study concludes that citizenship could thrive in American Samoa

San Francisco, CA — While the case of Tuaua v. United States has been dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the case for citizenship for American Samoans continues. A former Assistant Attorney General, Sean Morrison, has just completed a law review article examining the question in depth. It will be published in the October issue of the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly.


The article, “Foreign in a Domestic Sense: American Samoa and the Last U.S. Nationals,” does the first thorough legal analysis of citizenship and its impact on the territory. It comes at an important time, as the debate is ongoing regarding citizenship. While the D.C. Court dismissed the case, it did not look into the full range of issues raised by the arguments, instead leaving the decision to Congress. Rep. Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin has introduced legislation in Congress calling on a federally authorized referendum on the question.


Morrison’s article comes to three important and surprising conclusions. First, the D.C. District Court’s decision was driven by an ambiguous definition of “United States,” which Morrison’s article shows to be a misguided method. As such, the court does have the power to determine citizenship for American Samoa through a series of early 20th Century Supreme Court decisions known as the Insular Cases. Second, citizenship in this context is not a “fundamental right” but is still applicable to American Samoa. Third, and most important, citizenship for American Samoans would not change the political status of the territory in any way, and would probably leave the fa’asamoa untouched.


“Every commission, report, and argument regarding citizenship in American Samoa has always ended with the request for a legal opinion on its effects on the culture and status of the territory,” explained Morrison. “But for over a century that analysis has never been done, and a lot of fear and confusion remains about the topic. I just examined whether citizenship could apply to the territory, and whether it would be harmful to the cultural system.”


Such conclusions leave a future court, or the territory, with a solid analysis with which to determine the citizenship issue. “I hope that this article will help the people of American Samoa make an informed decision regarding citizenship, by presenting an exhaustive, unbiased analysis of what would actually happen were citizenship to be applied,” said Morrison. “In all reality, it’s not that scary, and life in the islands would not change.”


The article will appear in the October issue of the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly. "Mr. Morrison's article is original, thoughtful, and proffers a unique approach to citizenship for American Samoans that is both grounded in law and sensitive to American Samoa culture,” said Dustin C. Ingraham, Editor‐in‐Chief of the Quarterly. We are honored and delighted that Mr. Morrison has chosen to publish his scholarship with the Quarterly and we look forward to its inclusion in our forty‐first volume.”


Sean Morrison was an Assistant Attorney General for the American Samoa Government until the end of 2012. He is currently President of Megerson Holdings, LLC. The Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly is the country’s oldest law journal devoted exclusively to constitutional law. The Quarterly is published four times yearly by the University of California Hastings College of the Law.


Those interested may read an advanced, unofficial, unedited copy of the article at the Social Science Research Network:


Source: Media release from Law Offices of Sean Morrison