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Enforcement stayed on citizenship ruling — appeal now pending

Photo of a 'national' passport

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — US District Court Judge Clark Waddoups stayed the enforcement of his Dec. 12th ruling which declared that persons born in American Samoa are US citizens, pending resolution of the issue on appeal, while the American Samoa Government and Congresswoman Aumua Amata have directed its legal team to start the appeals process.

Waddoups, with the federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah, ruled that American Samoans are entitled to birthright US citizenship and ordered the US State Department to “issue new passports to Plaintiffs that do not disclaim their U.S. citizenship.”

Persons born in American Samoa are U.S. nationals, under federal law, and the disclaimer is stamped on their US passports. In a one-page, one-sentence ordered issued last Friday, Dec. 13th, Waddoups said, the “court stays its ruling pending resolution of the issue on appeal.”

The plaintiffs, who resides in Utah, are three American Samoans — John Fitisemanu, Pale Tuli and Rosavita Tuli — who argued 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.

Responding to Samoa News request for comments, Charles Alailima, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said last Friday afternoon that the judge's order staying enforcement “is common in these kinds of cases” where federal judge's ruling in one federal district may be different from a federal judge's ruling in another district.

“What that usually means is the judge expects there will be an appeal and it may become necessary eventually for the U.S. Supreme Court to get involved,” he said via email from Washington D.C.

Attorney Michael F. Williams of the Washington D.C. law firm of Kirkland & Ellis LLP told Samoa News last Thursday after the ruling was made public by the court that ASG and the Congresswoman intend to appeal.

ASG and the Congresswoman are intervenors in the case, while the defendants are the US State Department and other senior officials.

Williams, responding to Samoa News inquiries following Waddoups’ stay-order, said “We have received instructions from the [ASG] Attorney General and Congresswoman Amata to appeal the ruling, and we will start that process promptly.”

Williams pointed out that Waddoups stay-order, “means that his decision will not take effect until the Court of Appeals has decided the case. The final resolution by the court of appeals could take a year or more.”

“The Utah federal judge's ruling is very sweeping, and it is based on arguments that have never been accepted in the federal courts before,” he said over the weekend. “In fact, the same arguments were rejected by a federal trial court and a federal court of appeals in Washington, DC during the Tuaua case.”

Local resident Leneuoti Tuaua, was the lead plaintiff in an identical citizenship case filed with the federal court in Washington D.C. in July 2012 against the US State Department and other department officials. The court sided with the defendants and dismissed the case the following year.

The plaintiffs appealed the lower court’s decision, which was dismissed by the D.C. appeals court, who sided with the lower court in 2015. The plaintiffs then went to the U.S. Supreme Court which denied the plaintiffs petition for ‘writ of certiorari’ in June 2016.

ASG and the Congresswoman were also intervenors in this case, and sided with the defendants. Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga said at the time that the Supreme Court’s decision preserves individual rights of the people of American Samoa to make a personal decision on whether to become a US citizen or remain a US national.

Following a Samoa News story last Friday of the Utah federal court’s decision, there have been several inquiries on the specific reasons behind the plaintiffs’ lawsuit for wanting to claim birthright citizenship.

Samoa News reported last year that the plaintiffs argued, among other things, that they were denied certain federal and state jobs and promotions due to their US National status. Fitisemanu claimed he was looked upon by others as a “foreigner” because he cannot vote, as he is not a US citizen, although he was born in a US territory. [See Samoa News Mar. 28, 2018 edition for details.]