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Local bar association marks 40th anniversary with conference

Legal implications of U.S. citizenship in American Samoa is the subject of a panel discussion of local attorneys during this weekend’s Law Conference hosted by the American Samoa Bar Association.

The conference is one of the events hosted by the association as it marks its 40th anniversary since being established in the territory. Agenda for the law conference — scheduled on Saturday afternoon at the American Samoa Community College from 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.— includes a panel discussion of the citizenship issue.

The conference is free and open to the public, who will have a chance to hear the 40-year history of the Bar Association.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries, Bar Association president Sean Morrison said the  panel discussion will be focusing on the legal implications of citizenship in American Samoa.

“This is in response to the proposed Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC) lawsuit that seeks to grant all those born in the territories full U.S. citizenship,” he said Monday evening, adding that this “suit would challenge the Insular Cases and use the 14th Amendment to grant citizenship to all those born here.”

“People have raised concerns due to the other provisions of the 14th Amendment, such as equal protection and due process,” he said. For example, he pointed to Congressman Faleomavaega Eni, who wrote to the Washington D.C. based CAC in February this year opposing the proposed suit.

In his letter, Faleomavaega informed CAC that the “issue of U.S. citizenship for American Samoans should be decided by the people of American Samoa and the U.S. Congress, not by a federal court.”

He expressed concern that the application of certain US constitutional issues to American Samoa such as “due process” and “equal protection” may pose a threat to other aspects of local laws that were enacted to protect and preserve Samoan traditions and culture.

Regarding the panel discussion, Morrison said, “this panel will look at the issue from a legal standpoint and try to determine what the fall-out could be if this suit were to succeed, and all American Samoa born people were given full citizenship.”

“So far we have a number of excellent panelists, including Charlie Alailima, Falefatu Alailima-Utu, and Afoa Moega Lutu,” he noted. “I think their expertise and foresight into these issues will really shed some light.”

The format for the panel discussion will essentially be a brief presentation by each panelist, followed by a moderated panel discussion. It will conclude with a public question and answer session.

CAC’s litigation and policy counsel Neil Weare was in the territory early last month and met with the Bar Association for a discussion on this issue. Weare told Samoa News at the time that there are no decisions yet as to when the suit will be filed.

Another issue on the agenda for the law conference is a presentation by District Court Judge Elvis Patea on the High Court’s revised case management system, which was first revealed in a memo from Chief Justice Michael Kruse last November to members of the bar, outlining ideas for revising their case management system. (Patea will also be the keynote speaker of the law conference).

“In other words, they were looking for ways to improve the day-to-day operations of the court in order to lighten the docket, speed up the resolution of cases, and improve the administration of people's matters,” Morrison explained. “There were a number of proposals, including increased use of alternative dispute resolutions, something the Bar has been working on for some time.”

Patea is in charge of implementing some of these projects, and he will be discussing the vision and the solutions, said Morrison, adding that this will include a Q&A session.

“The Bar is particularly excited to hear about how new technologies can be used to better improve the administration of the court system, especially the Court's plans to launch their own website,” he said.

The final event for the conference is an inaugural award — the Arthur A. Morrow Justice award — and the first recipient is Ipu Lefiti. (See separate story in today’s edition for full details)