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Action in US citizenship lawsuit — ASG, Amata file “supplemental authority”

Federal District Court Building in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Point to recent ruling by the US 9th Circuit of Appeals re Guam’s 2000 Plebiscite Law

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Attorneys for Intervenors — American Samoa Government and Congresswoman Aumua Amata — in the US citizenship lawsuit at the federal court in Salt Lake City, UT have filed “supplemental authority” notice which points to a recent ruling by the US Ninth Circuit of Appeals Court that may have similar effects on extending parts of the US Constitution — citizenship clause — to American Samoa.

The analysis contained in the Ninth Circuit’s opinion is pertinent and related to whether imposing birthright citizenship “would be ‘impracticable and anomalous’,” considering the “particular circumstances” of American Samoa, according to attorneys for the Intervenors in their filing.

“It also informs Intervenors’ arguments that the judicial extension of U.S. citizenship could threaten the fa’a Samoa, as raised in the motion to dismiss and summary judgment briefing,” they further argued in the notice filed this week.

The Ninth Circuit’s 45-page decision issued July 29th, stems from a lawsuit filed more than two years ago by plaintiff, Guam resident Arnold Davis, against the government of Guam at the federal court in Guam over Guam’s 2000 Plebiscite Law. The lower court sided with the plaintiff, which was later appealed by the defendant.

In response to Samoa News inquiries, Michael F. Williams with the Washington D.C. law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP, representing the Intervenors in the citizenship case, explained that Guam is holding a plebiscite to determine how the people of Guam would like to structure their relationship with the United States.

The results of the vote would not be binding, however, but the Guam government would transmit the results to the United Nations, the President of the United States, and the US Congress.

By statute in Guam, voting in the plebiscite is limited to "native inhabitants of Guam,” he said, adding that Davis, a non-Chamorro (natives of Guam) resident of Guam wants to vote in the election but is denied under Guamanian law.

In its ruling, Williams said, the Ninth Circuit affirmed that Guam could not limit voting to "native inhabitants of Guam” and held that “restricting the vote to native inhabitants was a proxy for restricting the vote based on the race of the individual, and the race-based restriction would violate the 15th Amendment” of the US Constitution.

“The case is another example of courts using constitutional provisions that should ensure fairness in other contexts to limit the ability of the territories to govern themselves,” Williams said yesterday from Washington D.C.

Under the Ninth Circuit's ruling, “there does not appear to be any practical way for the Government of Guam to determine what Guamanians think their future status should be,” he explained.

“This is similar to the efforts by the plaintiffs in [the citizenship lawsuit] to try to extend parts of the Constitution to American Samoa, even though doing so could have a catastrophic impact on the current way of life that Samoans cherish,” he added.

According to the Ninth Circuit, “We hold that Guam’s limitation on the right to vote in its political status plebiscite to ‘Native Inhabitants of Guam’ violates the Fifteenth Amendment.” The ruling also notes — as background information — that the US Congress enacted the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 which, among other things, amends provisions of Guam’s Organic Act, and conferred U.S. citizenship on all persons born in Guam.


In their lawsuit filed March last year, the plaintiffs, three American Samoans living in Utah, argue that since they were born in a US territory, they are entitled to automatic citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution.

(Samoa News notes that the same law firm that represents the plaintiff in the citizenship case also represented the plaintiff in the Guam voting case.)

ASG and the Congresswoman have argued against the lawsuit — in which the US State Department and its top officials are named as defendants — that citizenship should not be decided by a federal court, but by the people of American Samoa.

Persons born in American Samoa are US nationals.