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Latest filing in citizenship case cites violation of self-determination, sovereignty and fa’aSamoa

photo of U.S. National passport

Salt Lake City, UTAH — The federal court imposing automatic US citizenship on persons born in American Samoa “violates fundamental principles of self-determination” as well as its “sovereignty and the importance of the fa’aSamoa,” according to the latest filing by the American Samoa Government and Congresswoman Aumua Amata at the federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The latest court filings, over the US citizenship lawsuit against several federal officials, followed a Sept. 6th hearing before US District Court Judge Clark Waddoups, who heard oral arguments in ASG and the Congresswoman’s motion to intervene in the complaint filed this year by three American Samoans residing in Utah.

According to court records, Waddoups took the matter under submission, and directed that the proposed intervenors — ASG and the Congresswoman – file their “proposed answer” no later than Sept. 10th after which the court will consider it along with the briefs and oral argument, and rule on the motion.

It's unclear from court records what the “proposed answer” to be filed by ASG and the Congresswoman is, and one of their attorneys didn’t immediately respond to Samoa News inquiries.

However, there is some indication in the latest court filings on Sept. 10th by ASG and the Congresswoman of what the court has sought a response on. Firstly, the proposed intervenors seek to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In the alternative, the Court should deny plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, and grant defendants’ and proposed Intervenors’ cross-motions for summary judgment, on all claims.

According to the intervenors, arguments advanced by Plaintiffs amount to a plea that this court extend US citizenship to the American Samoan people, whether they like it or not.

“These arguments are untenable,” they said, and asked the court to dismiss the complaint for at least two additional reasons not fully addressed by the briefs filed by the defendants, which includes the US Secretary of State, the State Department and its top officials.

Attorneys for the proposed Intervenors contend that ASG and the Congresswoman “are in a unique position to articulate” these two additional arguments, which bear directly on the U.S. Constitutional question at issue.


The proposed intervenors argue that “extending birthright citizenship to people who do not want it, violates every legal principle of self-determination, sovereignty, and autonomy.”

Additionally, plaintiffs “ignore the anomalous and potentially disruptive consequences for the people and culture of American Samoa that would result from a judicial determination that American Samoans are automatically American citizens.”

ASG and the Congresswoman continue to maintain that such a “judicial determination could threaten certain aspects of fa’aSamoa, including its basic social structures, its traditional practices with respect to alienation of land, and its religious customs — all of which are constitutionally protected principles of American Samoan society.”

Through their attorneys, ASG and the Congressman explained what they call American Samoa’s “social structure”, which will be threatened by judicial fiat. Also part of the social structure is the “aiga” that of large extended families, headed by the matai and the US has always recognized the matai system in American Samoa.

“Although the U.S. initially imposed a few changes to the matai structure by suppressing some titles and transferring governmental recognition of authority from certain high-ranking matais to lesser ranking matais, the basic matai structure was untouched and is preserved today,” they say.

The proposed intervenor also pointed to the tradition in which certain registered matai are selected to serve in the Senate.

“Were all American Samoan people granted United States citizenship, this tradition could be subjected to scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause,” they said, adding that while it’s far from predetermined that precedent would require abolition of the matai system if the Court extended US citizenship to American Samoans, “there is good reason for the people of American Samoa to urge caution in any societal changes that could imperil their revered cultural institutions.”

They went on to explain land alienation, in which the ‘aiga own the land in common for the benefit of the group, and the property is managed via the matai. There are also local laws governing the sale of communal land, the motion notes, which are “tied into the communal ownership of land and its relation to both the matai hierarchy and the ‘aiga clan system. All of this could be endangered by judicial imposition of United States citizenship.”

It then moved to religion, saying, “Religious observance is not only a social norm, it is enforced by local leaders, the village matai: ‘[i]n most villages in American Samoa, there are both early evening ‘prayer’ curfews as well as nocturnal curfews.”

It also explains the evening curfew, that includes prayers and the punishments handed down by village leaders to violators. “It is not difficult to imagine the disruptive consequences that the extension of United States citizenship might create for the American Samoa tradition of prayer curfews,” it says.


ASG and the Congresswoman also argue that the American Samoa people — who are entitled to choose their own political arrangement — have never reached a consensus regarding the imposition of birthright citizenship.

“Whether birthright citizenship should extend to the people of American Samoa is a question for the people of American Samoa and its elected representatives, and not for this Court to decide,” the intervenors argued.

Furthermore, in every other case in which people born in overseas territories were granted birthright citizenship, Congress, not the courts, has made that decision in conjunction with the elected representatives of those territories.

“Imposition of birthright citizenship would usurp the political process of self-determination” for American Samoa, said the proposed intervenors.