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Seven “friends of the court” call for Supreme Court to review citizenship case

Seven ‘amicus briefs’ or “friends of the court” have filed briefs with the Supreme Court of the United States to grant review of a Washington D.C. federal circuit court decision denying recognition of birthright citizenship in U.S. territories based on the controversial Insular Cases, a series of early 1900s decisions the Ninth Circuit recently explained have “been the subject of extensive judicial, academic, and popular criticism,” according to attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case, which are led by local resident Leneuoti Tuaua.


The citizenship lawsuit against the US State Department has been dismissed by the DC appeals court, siding with the lower court and saying that only the US Congress has the authority to grant citizenship to persons born in outlying territories including American Samoa.


The seven “friends of the court” briefs came from academics, current and former officials of the other US territories and civil rights groups represented by top national law firms. The briefs were filed Wednesday. They were in support of the plaintiffs’ petition for certiorari submitted last month by Theodore B. Olson, who is a Supreme Court attorney.


“This surge of interest and support demonstrates why after more than a century of waiting it is time for the Supreme Court to finally answer whether citizenship for people born in America’s overseas territories is a right guaranteed by the Constitution or a mere privilege to be extended or retracted by Congress based on the political winds,” said Olson, a Partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and former U.S. Solicitor General — in a statement yesterday.


He said the Supreme Court now has an opportunity “to correct an historic injustice.”


Local attorney Charles Alailima, who also represents the plaintiffs, said that as the brief by elected officials in other U.S. territories demonstrates, their collective experience shows that recognition of citizenship has not resulted in a loss of land or culture.


“In the face of decisions by federal judges upholding land alienation laws in both American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands without regard to citizenship status, it's odd that American Samoa's leaders are the ones arguing against precedent to suggest our laws would be struck down if American Samoans had a right to be recognized as citizens," he said in the statement.


He continued, “The position of our leaders today is 180 degrees from the position of our leaders who signed the Deeds of Cession. It was their belief not only that they would be recognized as U.S. citizens upon the raising of the U.S. flag, but also that citizenship was consistent with the continued control by Samoans of their communal lands and customs. Samoan customs and practices have been evolving since the arrival of the first settlers in the islands thousands of years ago. That is what a living culture does to remain viable in an ever changing world.”


“The territory’s courts have recognized this dynamic evolution being done by Samoans themselves and have been careful to ensure that the laws protecting Samoan custom and culture are interpreted in a manner that remains consistent with US constitutional principles and federal laws applicable to US territories. Citizenship will not change this,” he added.


Among supporters of the citizenship lawsuit from other US territories is Guam’s current Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo as well as former governors of Puerto Rico, Guam and the US Virgin Islands. And they argued that the Supreme Court should take this opportunity to clarify the constitutional rights of the more than 4 million Americans living in U.S. territories.


A decision by the Supreme Court on whether it will take up the case is expected by the end of the Term, which ends in June, says Alailima.


Click on attachement below for information and names of the seven “friends of the court” supporters of the citizenship lawsuit case.