Six amicus briefs filed in support of citizenship in US territories

by May 14, 2020Courts, Headlines0 comments

Plaintiffs in Fitisemanu v United States have received a major boost in the form of six separate amicus briefs filed in support of their claim that people born in US territories have a constitutional right to US citizenship. Last December, a federal district court in Utah issued a landmark ruling in their favor. Earlier this year the United States and American Samoa appealed that decision to the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, arguing it is Congress, not the Constitution, that answers the question of citizenship for people born in US territories.

“We are thrilled to see such broad support for what should be a pretty simple concept – if you are born on US soil, whether in a state or a territory, the Constitution guarantees you the right to be US citizenship,” said Neil Weare, President, and Founder of Equally American, which advocates for equality and civil rights for the nearly 4 million Americans living in U.S. territories. “The amicus parties reflect a wide range of perspectives and experiences, which I think will help convince the Tenth Circuit to affirm the district court’s historic decision,” Weare added.

10th Circuit Amicus Briefs:

  • Members of Congress, Former Members of Congress, and Former Governors of Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands: Argues that reversal of the district court would imperil citizenship and increase marginalization in all territories and that the combined experiences of the territories show that recognition of US citizenship does not threaten the distinct legal and cultural traditions of each territory.
  • Samoan Federation of America: Demonstrates that American Samoans strongly supported recognition of US citizenship from 1900 through at least 1960 and that concerns over the recognition of citizenship raised by American Samoa’s leaders today are misplaced.
  • Citizenship Scholars: Demonstrates that the common law rule of citizenship by place of birth enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment has deep roots in the American tradition and English Common Law, and that recognizing persons born in current territories as US citizens would not require recognition of US citizenship for people born in former territories like the Philippines.
  • Scholars of Constitutional Law and Legal History: Argues that the Insular Cases do not determine the scope of the Citizenship Clause and should not be extended beyond their holdings because they are constitutionally infirm and rest on antiquated notions of racial inferiority.
  • American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Utah: Examines the wide array of federal, state, and local rights and privileges denied to those who are unconstitutionally labeled by the federal government as “nationals, but not citizens” of the United States.
  • Virgin Islands Bar Association: Argues that the Insular Cases represent a broken promise of fundamental rights to Americans in the territories and that the Citizenship Clause puts citizenship in the territories beyond the power of Congress to deny.

The Fitisemanu plaintiffs include John Fitisemanu and Pale and Rosavita Tuli, Utah residents born in American Samoa, who are denied recognition as citizens by the federal government based solely on where they were born in the United States. The Southern Utah Pacific Islander Coalition are also plaintiffs. At different points in time, the federal government has also denied recognition of citizenship to people born in Puerto Rico, Guam and the US Virgin Islands, although Congress now recognizes these Americans as citizens.

The Fitisemanu plaintiffs’ brief along with briefs opposing recognition of citizenship in US territories filed by the United States and American Samoa are available at Equally American’s website.

The United States and American Samoa will have an opportunity to respond to the briefs in the coming weeks. An oral argument in the case is expected later this summer.

Fitisemanu is on an expedited schedule on appeal, with plaintiffs hoping for a decision from the Tenth Circuit before November so they might be able to vote in the upcoming presidential elections.