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Recent ruling in Honolulu “pertinent and related” to citizenship case

Courtroom, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals
Oral arguments set for next month in 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Attorneys representing the Intervenors in the citizenship case before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals have argued that a Honolulu federal court decision is an example of how discriminatory classifications based on U.S. citizenship may be challenged on a case-by-case basis without extending constitutional birthright citizenship to all U.S. nationals.

Attorneys with the Washington D.C.-based law firm, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, filed last week with the appeal’s court, an Aug. 18th letter regarding the Honolulu federal court decision, which struck down the Hawaii Revised Statute 134-2 (HRS 134-2), prohibiting non-citizen US nationals from owning a firearm. (See Samoa News edition Aug. 12th edition.)

Attorneys for the Intervenors — the American Samoa Government and Congresswoman Aumua Amata — in the citizenship case included in their submission, the Honolulu decision, that permanently enjoined Hawaii’s statutory citizenship requirement for permits to acquire firearms as applied to non-citizen U.S. nationals, including those born in American Samoa.

Plaintiff in the Honolulu case is Alanoa Nickel, who was born in American Samoa and because of his US National status, was unable to apply for a permit to obtain a firearm due to HRS 134-2 (d), which states in part that only “citizens of the United States” are eligible to receive such a permit.

Through their attorneys, the Intervenors point out that this same Hawaii statute was found unconstitutional as applied to permanent resident aliens, under both the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Second Amendment in the Fotoudis v. City & County of Honolulu case.

In the Nickel case, and based on the parties’ agreement “that the permanent injunction and ruling in Fotoudis should be extended so as to apply equally,” the district court permanently enjoined enforcement of § 134-2(d)’s citizenship requirement as applied to non-citizen U.S. nationals,” the intervenors pointed out.

“That decision is an example of how discriminatory classifications based on U.S. citizenship may be challenged on a case-by-case basis to achieve meaningful relief — without extending constitutional birthright citizenship to all U.S. nationals who are born in unincorporated territories,” attorneys for the Intervenors argued.

Furthermore, this result is pertinent and related to whether the 10th Appeal’s Court should “forcibly impose a compact of citizenship — with its concomitant rights, obligations, and implications for cultural identity — on a distinct and unincorporated territory of people, in the absence of evidence that a majority of the territory’s inhabitants endorse such a tie and where the territory’s democratically elected representatives actively oppose such a compact,” according to the Intervenors who quoted from the decision of another similar federal court decision a few years ago at the federal court in D.C. - the Tuaua vs. USA.


The federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah ruled last December “Persons born in American Samoa are citizens of the United States by virtue of the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”  The decision agrees with the three plaintiffs — who are living in Utah and born in American Samoa — over their lawsuit against the US State Department and its senior officials.

The federal defendants along with the Intervenors disagreed with the lower court’s citizenship decision and appealed it to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. All parties have filed written briefs with oral arguments set for next month.