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American Samoa US citizenship ruling faces appeals

U.S. State Dept. logo

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The American Samoa Government and Congresswoman Aumua Amata, as well as the US State Department, have filed separate notices of their intent to appeal the US citizenship decision issued last month by the federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The State Department, along with other senior officials, through their federal legal team filed their appeal notice last Friday with the US Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal based in Denver, Colorado.

Through attorney Michael Williams of the Washington D.C.-based law firm of Kirkland & Ellis LLP., the ASG and Congresswoman, who are intervenors in the case, file their appeal notice on Monday this week.

In his Dec. 12th decision, US District Court Judge Clark Waddoups of the federal court in Salt Lake City declared — among other things that — “Persons born in American Samoa are citizens of the United States by virtue of the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Under federal law, persons born in American Samoa are US Nationals, but Waddoups ruled that this statute “is unconstitutional both on its face and as applied to Plaintiffs” who are three American Samoans living in Utah. Waddoups stayed his rule the following day, while the case goes through the appeal process.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries, Williams explained that “under the ordinary schedule” for the 10th Circuit, the appellants (which are the defendants and intervenors) file their opening brief around 40 days after the record is certified from the lower court. He added that the plaintiffs have asked the appellants “to agree to expedite the appeal”.

“We disagree that expedited relief is necessary because the district court [on Salt Lake City] stayed its decision, so that it does not have an effect pending appeal,” said Williams. Nevertheless, we have agreed with the plaintiffs to a briefing schedule that is approximately a week or so faster than the ordinary schedule for filing briefs.”

Asked for a comment on intervenors seeking an appeal, Williams responded, “On behalf of the American Samoa Government and the Congresswoman, we are pleased to have the opportunity to explain to the Court of Appeals how harmful it is as a matter of self-determination to have a United States judge in Utah change the status of American Samoan nationals against their will.”

Williams told Samoa News after the Waddoups ruling that it’s “unfortunate” the “Utah federal court's decision was dismissive about the self-determination of the American Samoan people and the distinctive cultural traditions that make Samoa special.”
The federal government moved to dismiss the case, arguing among other things that only the US Congress has the authority to grant US citizenship to outlying US territories such as American Samoa, and this has not been done to American Samoa.

ASG and the Congresswoman both support the defendants.

Last month the Fono approved a House Concurrent Resolution in which the Senate and House “endorses and joins efforts” by Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga and the Congresswoman “in appealing and seeking reversal” through the federal appeal’s court “the erroneous decision” by Waddoups.

During a Senate committee hearing on the resolution, senators were unanimous in voicing strong objections to any move through the federal court system to impose automatic US citizenship on persons born in American Samoa, arguing that the decision should be — and must be — made in American Samoa by everyone, and not just a few individuals living off island.