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ASG and Congresswoman petition Supreme Court to deny citizenship appeal

U.S. Supreme Court building
Petitioners’ contrary view would threaten fa’a Samoa, they say

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — In a 44-page response filed yesterday, the American Samoa Government and Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata, asked the U.S Supreme Court to deny a request by three American Samoans living in the Salt Lake City, Utah to review a decision by the majority of the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals that citizenship birth on U.S. soil is not applicable to those born in American Samoa.

The appeal’s court decision “respects the wishes of the American Samoan people, as expressed by the unanimous voice of their democratic government and elected representatives, by allowing the American Samoan people to decide for themselves — in consultation with Congress — whether and when to seek birthright citizenship,” argued ASG and Uifa’atali, who are Intervenors in what has been described as the “citizenship” case.

“It would be the height of irony to use the ‘overruling of the Insular Cases’ to cut off that ongoing democratic dialogue, deprive the American Samoan people of their fundamental right to self-determination, and force them to accept birthright citizenship regardless of their wishes,” the Intervenors said in court filings by their legal team.

“The Tenth Circuit correctly determined that the Citizenship Clause does not require that result, and no further review is warranted,” the Intervenors further argued.

For the Insular Cases — it’s a series of opinions by the U.S. Supreme Court issued in 1901, about the status of U.S. territories acquired in the Spanish-American War, and the periods shortly thereafter, in which the court ruled that full constitutional rights did not automatically extend to all areas under American control.

The three American Samoans, plaintiffs in the case after filing the lawsuit more than a year ago at the federal court in Salt Lake City, are now the petitioners in the case before the Supreme Court.

As previously reported by Samoa News, the plaintiffs filed a Petition For Writ Of Certiorari with the Supreme Court, which asks the highest court in the nation to declare them U.S citizens and overturn the Insular Cases. And plaintiffs were strongly supported by several organizations and individuals through “amicus brief” or friends of the court filings.

The Intervenors noted that the question presented to the Supreme Court is: Whether the Tenth Circuit correctly held — consistent with constitutional text, structure, and history, longstanding and unbroken historical practice, and every other court of appeals to address the issue — that the Citizenship Clause does not require imposing birthright citizenship on the people of American Samoa over the objection of their elected representatives and government and in violation of their basic right to self-determination.”

ASG and Uifa’atali tell the Supreme Court that for 3,000 years the American Samoan people have kept “fa’a Samoa” — the Samoan traditional way of life — alive in part by preserving their unique political status. For example, from the moment the traditional leaders of the American Samoan people voluntarily ceded sovereignty over their islands to the U.S, persons born in American Samoa have been born as U.S nationals, but not U.S citizens.

“As the federal government and the federal courts have recognized, that unique status distinguishes American Samoa from the fifty States and the other territories, and contributes to its ability to maintain its traditional cultural practices,” the Intervenors pointed out.

However, they argued that the petitioners “now seek to disrupt that unique status” asking the Court to hold that the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires imposing birthright citizenship on the American Samoan people regardless of their wishes.

“That position contravenes not only constitutional text, structure, and history, but more than a century of unbroken historical practice,” the Intervenors noted.

And ever since the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, the federal government has “never understood” the Citizenship Clause to automatically extend birthright citizenship to overseas territories; instead, in each and every case, Congress has determined on a territory-by-territory basis whether and when to extend citizenship to persons born in overseas territories, through a democratic process that considers the views of the territorial inhabitants affected and respects their basic right to self-determination.

ASG and the Congresswoman contend that the Tenth Circuit, “correctly held that the Citizenship Clause does not prohibit that longstanding and consistent historical practice — a holding that accords with every other court of appeals to consider the issue, and that this Court has repeatedly declined to review in other cases.”

“This petition should likewise be denied,” the Intervenors argued and declared that this is “an inconvenient brief for petitioners, who would love to claim that their stance serves the interests of the American Samoan people.”

The Intervenors claim that the American Samoan people themselves, do not share that view — which is why the leaders of American Samoa — ASG and the Congresswoman — intervened to oppose petitioners’ claims, and why the American Samoan legislature welcomed the Tenth Circuit’s decision with a unanimous concurrent resolution of support that passed both houses without a single dissenting vote.

As previously reported by Samoa News the Senate Concurrent Resolution approved by the Fono last year expressed the support of the Legislature, for itself and on behalf of the people of American Samoa, of the Tenth Circuits ruling in “respecting the right of the American Samoan people to retain our current statutory birthright status as U.S. Nationals and the right of voluntary basis of the reclassification of U.S Nationals wishing to become U.S citizens.”

The Tenth Circuit’s ruling reversed an earlier decision by the Salt Lake City federal court, which declares the plaintiffs U.S citizens because they were born on U.S soil — in the U.S territory of American Samoa.

In their opinion to the Petition for Writ of Certiorari, the Intervenors remind the Supreme Court that the American Samoan people have not yet reached consensus on whether to accept the privileges and responsibilities of birthright citizenship.

“But they firmly believe that any decision on birthright citizenship for American Samoa should come through the democratic process, not through a judicial misreading of the Citizenship Clause,” according to the Intervenors who point out that nothing prevents petitioners/plaintiffs from seeking citizenship for themselves through the streamlined naturalization process that Congress has provided for persons born in American Samoa.

“At the same time, nothing in the Citizenship Clause requires imposing birthright citizenship on all American Samoans, regardless of their wishes and contrary to more than a century of unbroken historical practice,” Intervenors said.

“Petitioners’ contrary view would threaten fa’a Samoa, upend well over a hundred years of settled law and practice, and deprive the American Samoan people of their basic right to determine their own status through the democratic process,” said ASG and the Congresswoman, who reiterated that Tenth Circuit “correctly rejected that untenable position, and this Court should deny certiorari.”

Samoa News will report later this week on other issues raised by the Intervenors as well as the U.S State Department’s opposition to the petition.