USA News

Supreme Court turns away case involving birthright citizenship for American Samoans

Washington — The Supreme Court on Monday said it will not consider a case that sought to confer U.S. citizenship on American Samoans at birth and presented the justices with an opportunity to revisit a series of rulings containing racist language that denied residents of U.S. territories some constitutional rights.

In turning away the dispute brought by three people born in American Samoa who now live in Utah, the Supreme Court left in place a U.S. appeals court ruling that upheld a federal law declaring that American Samoans are considered U.S. nationals, not citizens, at birth.

The three American Samoans, John Fitisemanu, Pale Tuli, Rosavita Tuli, joined by the Southern Utah Pacific Islander Coalition, challenged the law in federal district court in 2018, arguing it is unconstitutional because U.S. territories, like American Samoa, are “in the United States” under the Citizenship Clause. 

The trial court sided with the three American Samoa natives, but the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld the statute. Lawyers for the three said the Denver-based appeals court relied on the controversial “Insular Cases,” which were a series of decisions issued in the wake of the Spanish-American War that denied all constitutional protections to the unincorporated territories.

The cases, which date back to 1901, involved Congress’s authority to govern U.S. territories, and the decisions were replete with racist language. In one concurring opinion from 1901, for example, Justice Edward Douglass White wrote that the U.S. could acquire an island “peopled with an uncivilized race” and warned against automatically granting citizenship to “those absolutely unfit to receive it.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch called for the court to reconsider the Insular Cases, writing in a concurring opinion last term in a separate case involving the denial of federal disability benefits to residents of Puerto Rico that they have “no foundation in the Constitution and rest instead of racial stereotypes. They deserve no place in our law.”

With a population of roughly 50,000 and located approximately 2,500 miles south of Hawaii, American Samoa is one of five U.S. territories, though only its residents have not been granted birthright citizenship by Congress. While residents of American Samoa —   as all U.S. nationals —  can apply for U.S. citizenship through an expedited process and travel overseas with a U.S. passport, lawyers for the petitioners told the Supreme Court that their passports include a disclaimer stating “NOT A UNITED STATES CITIZEN,” which they called a “stigmatizing classification.”

The American Samoan natives living in Utah cannot vote or run for office at the federal and state levels. They are also prohibited from serving on juries or working as police officers.

“This ongoing denial of citizenship imposes significant harms, which fall disproportionately on those who relocate from American Samoa to other parts of the United States,” they wrote. “Those born in American Samoa, including petitioners, are labeled second-class by the U.S. government.”

But the government of American Samoa and the Justice Department called for the Supreme Court not to take up the case. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said in a court filing that the 10th Circuit’s “interpretation of the Citizenship Clause is consistent with the Constitution’s test and with the long-established practice of the political Branches.”

“It is also consistent with the wishes of the Samoan people, who have made clear through their elected representatives that they do not favor birthright citizenship,” she said.

The American Samoan government told the Supreme Court that its people have for 3,000 years preserved the traditional Samoan way of life “in part by preserving their unique political status: From the moment the traditional leaders of the American Samoan people voluntarily ceded sovereignty over their islands to the United States, persons born in American Samoa have been born as United States nationals, but not United States citizens.”

The petitioners, lawyers for the American Samoan wrote, “now seek to disrupt that unique status.”

File source

Tags
Show More

Related Articles

USA News

Supreme Court turns away case involving birthright citizenship for American Samoans

Washington — The Supreme Court on Monday said it will not consider a case that sought to confer U.S. citizenship on American Samoans at birth and presented the justices with an opportunity to revisit a series of rulings containing racist language that denied residents of U.S. territories some constitutional rights.

In turning away the dispute brought by three people born in American Samoa who now live in Utah, the Supreme Court left in place a U.S. appeals court ruling that upheld a federal law declaring that American Samoans are considered U.S. nationals, not citizens, at birth.

The three American Samoans, John Fitisemanu, Pale Tuli, Rosavita Tuli, joined by the Southern Utah Pacific Islander Coalition, challenged the law in federal district court in 2018, arguing it is unconstitutional because U.S. territories, like American Samoa, are “in the United States” under the Citizenship Clause. 

The trial court sided with the three American Samoa natives, but the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld the statute. Lawyers for the three said the Denver-based appeals court relied on the controversial “Insular Cases,” which were a series of decisions issued in the wake of the Spanish-American War that denied all constitutional protections to the unincorporated territories.

The cases, which date back to 1901, involved Congress’s authority to govern U.S. territories, and the decisions were replete with racist language. In one concurring opinion from 1901, for example, Justice Edward Douglass White wrote that the U.S. could acquire an island “peopled with an uncivilized race” and warned against automatically granting citizenship to “those absolutely unfit to receive it.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch called for the court to reconsider the Insular Cases, writing in a concurring opinion last term in a separate case involving the denial of federal disability benefits to residents of Puerto Rico that they have “no foundation in the Constitution and rest instead of racial stereotypes. They deserve no place in our law.”

With a population of roughly 50,000 and located approximately 2,500 miles south of Hawaii, American Samoa is one of five U.S. territories, though only its residents have not been granted birthright citizenship by Congress. While residents of American Samoa —   as all U.S. nationals —  can apply for U.S. citizenship through an expedited process and travel overseas with a U.S. passport, lawyers for the petitioners told the Supreme Court that their passports include a disclaimer stating “NOT A UNITED STATES CITIZEN,” which they called a “stigmatizing classification.”

The American Samoan natives living in Utah cannot vote or run for office at the federal and state levels. They are also prohibited from serving on juries or working as police officers.

“This ongoing denial of citizenship imposes significant harms, which fall disproportionately on those who relocate from American Samoa to other parts of the United States,” they wrote. “Those born in American Samoa, including petitioners, are labeled second-class by the U.S. government.”

But the government of American Samoa and the Justice Department called for the Supreme Court not to take up the case. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said in a court filing that the 10th Circuit’s “interpretation of the Citizenship Clause is consistent with the Constitution’s test and with the long-established practice of the political Branches.”

“It is also consistent with the wishes of the Samoan people, who have made clear through their elected representatives that they do not favor birthright citizenship,” she said.

The American Samoan government told the Supreme Court that its people have for 3,000 years preserved the traditional Samoan way of life “in part by preserving their unique political status: From the moment the traditional leaders of the American Samoan people voluntarily ceded sovereignty over their islands to the United States, persons born in American Samoa have been born as United States nationals, but not United States citizens.”

The petitioners, lawyers for the American Samoan wrote, “now seek to disrupt that unique status.”

File source

Tags
Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button
Close