The Supreme Court will not take the American Samoa citizenship case


The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a case on citizenship rights for residents of American Samoa that advocates said should be used to overturn a series of century-old precedents widely considered racist.

Supporters of those in US territories and civil rights groups urged the court to take up the case Fitzman v. OSin part to reconsider a series of rulings called Insular Cases.

The Ministry of Justice advises the Supreme Court to pass on the citizenship case

Last term, justices on both ends of the court’s ideological spectrum — Sonia Sotomayor on the left and Neil M. Gorsuch on the right — said the rulings were an embarrassment because of the racist language and imperialist sentiment used to find that residents of some US territories are not entitled to full constitutional protection.

“Insular cases have no basis in the Constitution and rest instead on racial stereotypes,” Gorsuch wrote in April in a concurring opinion. He added that “the time has come to recognize that the isolated cases rest on a rotten foundation. And I hope that the day will soon come when the Court completely overrules them.”

Gorsuch seemed to have in mind Fitzman. The US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld a federal law that those born in American Samoa are US citizens but not US citizens. It came in a challenge from three people born in the archipelago but now living in Utah.

There was no indication from the court’s routine dismissal of the petition that Gorsuch or Sotomayor objected to the ruling.

“Supreme Court’s Refusal to Reconsider Insular cases today continues to reflect that ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ does not mean the same to the 3.6 million residents of US territories as it does to everyone else,” said Neil Weare, president and founder of Equally American, the group that pressing the case. in a statement.

The Biden administration told the Supreme Court in a brief brief that the appeals court had been correct in finding that Congress should make citizenship decisions about those born in territories, and the Samoa case was not the right one to question the Insular cases.

First, there is no consensus on citizenship among the territory’s approximately 50,000 inhabitants.

Its political leadership and delegates to Congress filed a brief that the issue should be negotiated through the political process.

“For three thousand years, on an archipelago seven thousand miles from this court, the American Samoan people have preserved Samoan – the traditional Samoan way of life, which weaves together countless traditional cultural, historical and religious practices into a vibrant pattern found nowhere else in the world,” their letter to the court said. “The American Samoan people have held Samoan alive in part by maintaining their unique political status.”

The challengers, and a group that has worked for birthright citizenship for those born in the territories, said in their request to the court that those born in American Samoa are labeled “second-class by the U.S. government.”

Those who move to the states, “despite being taxpayers who contribute to their communities, are unable to vote,” serve on juries or run for state and federal office, the petition said.

Despite a high percentage of residents serving in the military, it continues, “In reality, they are citizens of nowhere.”

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The American Samoan challengers noted that they were seeking to overturn rulings that began in 1901 with a judge saying there should be different rules for “foreign races different from us” and expressing concern about “savages”. who became “citizens of the United States.”

“It’s a gut punch for the judges to leave a ruling that says I’m not equal to other Americans simply because I was born in a US territory,” the lead plaintiff, John Fitisemanu, said in a statement. “I was born on American soil, have an American passport and pay my taxes like everyone else. But because of a discriminatory federal law, I am not recognized as an American citizen.”

At issue was how to interpret the Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantee that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

There is no split among the appeals courts that overseas territories are not “in the United States,” the Biden administration said, and it is up to Congress to grant birthright citizenship, as it has done in Puerto Rico, Guam and elsewhere.

“The government in no way relies on the indefensible and discredited aspects of the reasoning and rhetoric of the Insular cases,” wrote Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar, so “this case would be an inappropriate vehicle to reconsider those cases.”

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