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American Samoa may jump on board as a defendant in citizenship suit

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The US Justice Department (USDOJ) has hinted — in court filings — at the possibility of the American Samoa Government seeking to intervene as a defendant in the US citizenship lawsuit filed last month in the federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah.

There have been local and off island inquiries from many American Samoans on whether the Lolo Administration plans to take a stand on the lawsuit, filed by John Fitisemanu, Pale Tuli and Rosavita Tuli — all born in American Samoa but living in Utah.

Samoa News understands that Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale is working with a US law firm, which will be providing its legal service “pro bono” or free of charge, for ASG’s response to the case. No other information was available at press time on ASG's response.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs argue, among other things, 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. Plaintiffs made the similar argument in a separate motion asking the court for summary judgment in their favor.

Among the federal defendants named in the complaint are the US Secretary of State and the State Department itself. And the defendants were given up to May 29th to file a response to the complaint.

This week, the USDOJ, representing the defendants, asked the federal court for additional time, saying that although defendants have been working diligently to prepare their May 29, 2018 filings, defendants need a short period of additional time — ten additional days—to complete their dispositive motion and opposition to Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment.

“This brief period of additional time may also be helpful to the Court, as defendants understand that the government of American Samoa will soon be filing a [contested] motion to intervene as a defendant in this matter,” according to the USDOJ filing.

It also says the “defendants do not intend to oppose American Samoa’s forthcoming motion to intervene, but defendants’ understanding is that plaintiffs will oppose.”

Responding to Samoa News inquiries, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Neil Weare of the Equally American civil rights group, said that since nothing has been filed yet by ASG, “we have no comment at this time”.

Talauega didn’t immediately respond to Samoa News inquiries on ASG filing a motion to intervene.

The court yesterday granted USDOJ’s request extending to June 9th, the deadline to file its response.

ASG had intervened in another similar case filed at the federal court in Washington D.C. more than two years ago, in which local resident Leneuoti Tuaua. ASG at the time argued, among other things, that the citizenship issue should be decided in American Samoa and not a federal court thousands of miles away.

Meanwhile this latest case in Utah has gained the attention of U.S scholars of law, history and political science who have written on the history of American citizenship. They recently filed a “amici curiae”, or friend of the court, brief in support of the plaintiffs.

According to the brief, the scholars have a “professional interest in the doctrinal, historical, and policy issues involved in the court’s interpretation of the meaning of citizenship in the United States”.

They contend that “the historical and Constitutional record supports recognizing birthright citizenship for persons born into American allegiance in any U.S. territory, including the territory of American Samoa,” according to the 38-page motion, which includes the names of the 15 scholars, many of whom are professors at US universities.