Federal Court Denies To Rehear Am. Samoa Citizenship Case

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Attorney for territory: Citizenship is political not legal question

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Oct. 3, 2015) – The federal appeals court in Washington D.C. has denied a request by five American Samoans for a rehearing en banc of the citizenship lawsuit decision handed down in June this year by a three-judge panel of the same court.

The panel upheld the lower court’s decision that constitutional citizenship birth on U.S. soil does not apply to those born in American Samoa.

Plaintiffs in the suit are lead by local resident Leneuoti Tuaua and plaintiffs include Los Angeles based non profit group, Samoan Federation of America. Plaintiffs had argued that persons born in American Samoa are U.S. citizens in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.

Defendants in the case are the U.S. State Department including the Secretary of State. Attorneys for the defendants argued that like the three judge panel in this case, every other court of appeals has held that the Citizenship Clause of the Constitution does not apply to U.S. "unincorporated territories", such as American Samoa.

In a one-page decision issued Friday, the appeals court judges says that upon consideration of plaintiffs petition for rehearing en banc, the response thereto and the absence of a request by any member of the court for a vote, it is ordered that the petition be denied.

The American Samoa Government and Congresswoman Aumua Amata intervened in opposition to the lawsuit, arguing that the citizenship status of the American Samoan people is a matter for the American Samoan people to resolve through political processes.

ASG and Amata were represented in the appeals process by attorney Mike Williams with the Washington D.C. based law firm of Kirkland and Ellis.

"The decision to deny rehearing en banc is an important victory for the self-determination rights of the American Samoan people," Williams told Samoa News last Friday once the decision was released. "The decision reaffirms that the people, and not the courts, should resolve questions about American Samoan citizenship."

There was no immediate response from attorneys for the plaintiffs on the outcome of Friday’s decision.

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