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ASG and Aumua oppose latest filing by plaintiffs in citizenship lawsuit

Federal District Court Building in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The American Samoa Government and Congresswoman Aumua Amata - who are Intervenors in the citizenship lawsuit before the federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah - have opposed a new motion filed by three American Samoans living in Utah, who argue that since they were born in a US territory, they are entitled to automatic citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution.

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.

Oral arguments for the case were heard in mid-November last year and everyone involved - including territorial leaders - were awaiting a decision or opinion from the court.

However, the plaintiffs - through their attorneys - filed on Feb. 19th this year, a notice of supplemental authority, “which arose after briefing and oral argument on the cross motions for summary judgment [for plaintiffs] currently pending before the Court”.

The supplement authority is a Feb. 15th opinion by the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit regarding the case of Aurelius Investment, LLC v. Puerto Rico.

The opinion strikes down portions of the federal “Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act” as unconstitutional and invalidating the appointments of members of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico because they were principal officers of the US government whose appointments violated the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, according to the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs argue several specific points from the First Circuit’s opinion, claiming to be relevant to the lawsuit and also answers questions asked by the court during oral arguments last November.

In their response on Monday this week, ASG and the Congresswoman argue that the First Circuit’s decision “answered an entirely different constitutional question than the one currently pending before this Court.”

In particular, the Aurelius case involved the “single question” of whether members of Puerto Rico’s Financial Oversight and Management Board are officers of the US government, subject to the U.S. Constitution’s Appointments Clause.

“Resolution of that narrow Appointments Clause question, which involves ‘structural’ constitutional protections, does not bear on the discrete legal question raised in these proceedings - i.e., whether the Fourteenth Amendment’s textual geographic limitation, ‘in the United States’, covers unincorporated territories like American Samoa,” the Intervenors argued.

“Aurelius thus says nothing about, and is irrelevant to, the birthright citizenship arguments that Plaintiffs have presented in their Complaint, pressed in their dispositive briefing, or raised before this Court at the hearing on the parties’ dispositive motions,” the Intervenors point out.

Additionally, the decision in Aurelius is irrelevant to the Court’s careful consideration of the self-determination interests and concerns over cultural preservation” that the Intervenors have raised.

Under the existing framework, courts consider whether imposing birthright citizenship “would be ‘impracticable and anomalous,’” considering the “particular circumstances” of American Samoa, according to the Intervenors response.

In closing, Intervenors said, “Nothing in Aurelius changes that analysis or suggests in any way that the Court should ignore these considerations and unilaterally impose U.S. citizenship on all American Samoans over the objections of their democratically elected representatives and despite their unique cultural and historical circumstances.”

Federal defendants last week filed their response, arguing - among other things - that the Aurelius decision has little to offer. They asked the court to look to the opinions issued by those courts across the country that have grappled with the precise question presented here, with respect to the geographic scope of the Citizenship Clause.

“Those decisions are unanimous,” the defendants say.