Citizenship Lawsuit May Be Headed To U.S. Supreme Court

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Faleomavaega: Appeals court ruling not the end of the matter

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, June 10, 2015) – Although the federal appeals court has affirmed a lower court’s decision in the citizenship lawsuit, former Congressman Faleomavaega Eni says this matter is not over yet and there is still the chance of the case being taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court, whose decision will be the final say.

For that reason, Faleomavaega has suggested local leaders call a "national convention" to discuss American Samoa’s future political status that would cover the issue of U.S. citizenship, before another legal challenge is made on the same issue.

Last week Friday, a three-judge panel with the U.S. Appeals Court in Washington D.C. ruled that people born in American Samoa do not automatically become citizens of the United States. Plaintiffs, led by local resident Leneuoti Tuaua, have argued that the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says otherwise.

Faleomavaega, during his tenure in the U.S. House, had filed an "amici curiae" brief when the case was in the lower court as well as in the appeals process, supporting the defendant — the State Department. The American Samoa Government joined in the ‘amici curiae’ in the appeals process.

While the appeals court has affirmed the lower court’s decision, Faleomavaega said this case is far from over, because the plaintiffs still have the option of appealing this case to "the highest court in the nation."

"They can appeal the decision of the lower court to the Supreme Court and that’s even a more dangerous situation, because their decision in final, which is the final rule of the land affecting American Samoa," Faleomavaega said in a phone interview on Monday from his home on the mainland. "So it’s not over yet."

When the appeals judges issued its ruling on Friday, a separate one-page order was also issued to the Clerk of the Court, to "withhold issuance of the mandate" — referring to its ruling — until seven days after the disposition of any timely petition for rehearing or petition for rehearing "en banc", according to federal appeals rules.

(Rehearing ‘en banc’ — means the case is to be heard by all judges of the appeals court, rather than just by the three-judges panel.)

Instruction to the clerk is without prejudice to the right of any party to move for expedited issuance of the mandate for good cause shown, the motion states. As of yesterday morning, no new motions have been filed in the case, according to online court records.

Online news reports this week that those who filed the case may now petition for it to be heard by all judges of the appeals court.

In a statement over the weekend, plaintiffs’ local attorney Charles Alailima said a decision about the next steps in the case would be made after more closely reviewing the appeals court decision.

Asked for his reaction to the appeals court decision, Faleomavaega reiterated what he has said over the years as well as in court documents filed in this case, that "the issue of U.S. Citizenship for persons born in American Samoa should not be decided by Judicial action but by the people of American Samoa and that American Samoa to work with the federal government to carry out the wishes of our people."

Faleomavaega also says he disagrees with the lawsuit, in which their Constitutional rights, under the Citizenship Clause, to be a U.S. citizen were denied, because they were born in American Samoa. "A process to become a U.S. citizen is in federal law for anyone — born in American Samoa — wishing to claim citizenship status," he said.

The plaintiffs had argued that Citizenship Clause of the U.S. Constitution applies to persons born in American Samoa, and therefore they should have been given "automatic" citizenship.


Faleomavaega said American Samoa needs to clearly define its political status with the United States and "the wishes of our people can" then be relayed to Congress and the federal government.

Among the options available to American Samoa for political status are closer relations through a Convent, such as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), or Free Association such as the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).

"Relationships between the U.S. and CNMI and FSM are clearly defined by law and American Samoa should do the same," he said, adding that American Samoa’s current status "as unincorporated — which means we will never be a state — and unorganized, meaning Congress never establish an Organic Act for American Samoa, is the worst status."

He said, "We have to act now and I’ve raised this political status issue over the years with our leaders, to convene a meeting of our people to find out what they want, and that is presented to Congress and the federal government.

"The day will come when we will not be able to determine our own political status, but will be imposed on us by others."

Faleomavaega suggested territorial leaders call a "national convention" not a "constitution convention" to find out what the people of American Samoa want. He says the convention should, among other things, clearly look at the terms of the current Deeds of Cession with the United States.

According to Faleomavaega, the wishes of the people can then be relayed to the U.S. Congress, which has the authority to enact appropriate legislation that addresses what the people want, including the issue of U.S. citizenship.

Justice Janis Rogers Brown, who wrote the decision for the three-judge panel of the appeals court, said the Citizenship Clause "does not extend birthright citizenship to those born in American Samoa."

Despite American Samoa’s lengthy relationship with the U.S, the American Samoan people "have not formed a collective consensus in favor of U.S. citizenship", Brown said.

"In part this reluctance stems from unique kinship practices and social structures inherent to the traditional Samoan way of life, including those related to the Samoan system of communal land ownership", she explained.

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