SCOTUS Has Bad News for American Samoans

Supreme Court declines to take up birthright citizenship appeal
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 18, 2022 2:00 AM CDT
Updated Oct 18, 2022 5:03 AM CDT
Supreme Court Rejects Appeal to Give American Samoans Citizenship at Birth
The U.S Supreme Court is seen, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022 in Washington.   (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal seeking to give people born in American Samoa US citizenship, the AP reports. In leaving in place an appeals court decision, the court also passed up an invitation to overturn a series of decisions dating back to 1901 known as the Insular Cases, replete with racist and anti-foreign rhetoric. Justice Neil Gorsuch had called for the cases to be overturned in April. But the justices refused to take up an appeal from people born in American Samoa, and living in Utah, who argued that a federal law declaring that they are “nationals, but not citizens, of the United States at birth” is unconstitutional. American Samoa is the only unincorporated territory of the United States where the inhabitants are not American citizens at birth.

A trial judge in Utah ruled in their favor, but the federal appeals court in Denver said Congress, not courts, should decide the citizenship issue. The appeals court also noted that American Samoa's elected leaders opposed the lawsuit for fear that it might disrupt their cultural traditions. “It’s a punch in the gut for the Justices to leave in place a ruling that says I am not equal to other Americans simply because I was born in a US territory," John Fitisemanu, the lead plaintiff, said in a statement. “I was born on US soil, have a US passport, and pay my taxes like everyone else. But because of a discriminatory federal law, I am not recognized as a US citizen.”

Instead, those born in the cluster of islands some 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii are granted “US national” status, meaning they can’t vote for US president, run for office outside American Samoa, or apply for certain jobs. The only federal election they can cast a vote in is the race for American Samoa’s nonvoting US House seat. Not taking up the case “helps preserve American Samoa’s cultural priorities and right of self-determination,” said Amata Coleman Radewagen, American Samoa’s US House delegate. “Our people value American Samoa’s right of self-determination, with great love for the United States as expressed in our people’s high rate of service to the country,” she said in a statement. “The issue of the Insular Cases can be addressed by Congress, based on self-determination by the people of each territory." (Much more here.)

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