Am. Samoa Citizenship Lawsuit Heard In Federal Appeals Court

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Plaintiffs claim U.S. constitution guaranties citizenship

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Feb. 10, 2015) – American Samoa’s current elected delegate to the U.S. House, Congresswoman Aumua Amata has joined the territorial government as an 'intervenor' in the citizenship lawsuit, with oral arguments heard yesterday at the federal appeals court in Washington D.C.

Aumua replaces former Congressman Faleomavaega Eni, who, along with ASG had sought to intervene in the appeal process, and the appellate court granted their joint motion last month.

Plaintiffs in the case, led by local resident Leneuoti Tuaua, have argued that the Citizenship Clause of the U.S. Constitution applies to persons born in American Samoa, and therefore they should have been given automatic citizenship.

Defendants, which include the U.S. Department of State and the Secretary of State, disagree, arguing that only Congress has the authority to grant U.S. citizenship to "outlying territories" such as American Samoa.

The lower court agreed and dismissed the lawsuit filed by the plaintiffs, who then appealed the case. Both sides have already filed written briefs — including individuals participating in the appeal as 'amici curiae', or friends of the court.

Washington D.C based attorney for the intervenors, Michael Williams told Samoa News that he expects the appeals court will issue a decision in the next couple of months, adding that the Court of Appeals ordinarily decides all of its cases for a particular term by the summer and often issues decisions much sooner than that.

Asked what his oral arguments centered on, and the judges’ reaction, Williams said the judges were well prepared and asked insightful questions about the role of American Samoa in both American history and contemporary Constitutional law.

"The Court appeared to appreciate both sides of this case, acknowledging the need to protect Samoan nationals from unfair discrimination while maintaining the right of the Samoan people to determine their political status," he said yesterday morning after the hearing. "It is encouraging that the Court seemed to understand the unique, vibrant culture of American Samoa and the importance of preserving the traditional Samoan way of life."

Asked for comments on Aumua joining ASG as an intervenor, Williams explained that the Congresswoman became a party to the case when she succeeded Faleomavaega as Delegate to the U.S. House from American Samoa.

"It is the Office of the Delegate from American Samoa, and not any current or former congressperson in a personal capacity, that is representing the elected interests of American Samoan nationals in the Tuaua case," he said.

Williams filed on Feb. 2 a motion which states Aumua has succeeded Faleomavaega as American Samoa’s elected Delegate to the U.S. House, and provisions of federal appeals court rules provide that when a public officer who is a party to an appeal or other proceeding in an official capacity dies, resigns, or otherwise ceases to hold office, the action does not abate.

"The public officer’s successor is automatically substituted as a party" and Aumua is automatically substituted for Faleomavaega in this case, the motion states.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Kelly Wynne, who argued for the defendants, said, "Unfortunately, I cannot comment at this time". Wynne referred additional questions to William Miller, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

"We typically do not comment beyond what is stated or submitted to court," Miller told Samoa News via email yesterday morning, adding, "We decline to comment on this matter."

Attorneys for the plaintiffs, led by Neil Weare, who is also president of the "We the People" Project and local attorney Charles Alailima, were not able to provide a statement to Samoa News at press time, although Alailima acknowledged yesterday morning that a media statement is being prepared.

Weare did tell the Guam-based newspaper Pacific Daily News that it’s hoped that having the courts clarify the citizenship rights of the 4.7 million people living in the territories will also help clarify the constitutional relationship between the United States and its territories.

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