Yesterday, the Obama Administration filed a brief before the DC Circuit arguing that Americans born in U.S. territories have no constitutional right to citizenship.
Relying on a series of controversial Supreme Court decisions known as the Insular Cases that have been compared to Plessy v. Ferguson, the Obama Administration defended a federal statute that expressly creates two classes of Americans: those who enjoy the protections of U.S. citizenship and those who do not.
Tuaua v. United States considers whether the Constitution’s guarantee of birthright citizenship in the Fourteenth Amendment extends to people born on American soil in a U.S. territory. The plaintiffs in the case were born in American Samoa, a U.S. territory since 1900. Among the plaintiffs are three veterans - American Samoa is distinguished as having the highest casualty rate in Iraq and Afghanistan of any U.S. jurisdiction. By statute, these plaintiffs and others born in American Samoa are recognized as “nationals, but not citizens, of the United States,” meaning that these passport-holding Americans must naturalize in order to be considered citizens by the federal government.
“It’s hard to believe that in the 21st century the Obama Administration is defending two separate classes of Americans,” said Neil Weare, President of co-counsel We the People Project, a non-profit that fights for the day the nearly 5 million residents of U.S. territories and the District of Columbia are treated as full and equal members of We the People.
“The Obama Administration’s position ignores not only the history of the Fourteenth Amendment, but the history of American Samoa,” said co-counsel Charles V. Ala’ilima, a prominent American Samoan attorney.
The Tuaua plaintiffs filed their opening brief before the DC Circuit in April – they will have the opportunity to file a reply brief in the coming weeks. Filing amicus briefs in support of the plaintiffs in May were citizenship scholars represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Members of Congress and former government officials represented by Covington & Burling LLP, and David Cohen, the first American Samoan political appointee to lead the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs, represented by Jenner & Block LLP. Scholars of constitutional law and legal history, represented by Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, filed on behalf of neither party, but pushed back against the Government’s reliance on the Plessy-era Insular Cases. Oral argument in the case is expected this fall.
In February, the D.C. Circuit denied an earlier motion by the federal government to dispose of the appeal before full briefing. In June 2013, the D.C. District Court dismissed the Tuaua lawsuit, setting up this appeal.
For an overview of the constitutional arguments in Tuaua v. United States, please see Neil Weare’s Op-Ed on CNN.com, “Citizenship is a Birthright in U.S. Territories,” published to coincide with a Harvard Law School conference titled “Reconsidering the Insular Cases,” held in February.
“Last year President Obama said when any American, no matter where they live, is denied the right to vote “We are betraying our ideals.” This is a quote from the We The People Blog website in you are wanting proof that I’m not making it up go to ”http://www.equalrightsnow.org/u_s_citizens_defend_democracy_can_t_vote_for_president">http://www.equalrightsnow.org/u_s_citizens_defend_democracy_can_t_vote_for_president
More attention needs to be brought to this issue in order for anything to be solved. I honestly hadn’t heard about it until a few months ago and am now doing a paper to bring awareness. Before you start merely pointing fingers and saying you want to impeach a president that has actually done productive things with his career, bring the issue to light instead of letting it hide in the darkness. We need more blogs like this.
sacrifice. I’ve lived on Guam for 6 years and still maintain a home there but, there is constantly some factions who think the Federal Government owes them something. Gu was liberated from Japanese occupation and many feel the US owes them for being occupied in the first place. As atrocious as the occupation was, I do not believe the US Govt. is to blame. Organize as a people, become a full fledged State, do your part and you will enjoy the benefits, like every other State.
It has a greater population that the 5 least populated states, not including D.C.
If it were to vote in general elections, it would receive approx. 7 electoral votes.
Its representative in Congress cannot vote on any legislation.
Since Puerto Rico was a territory/colony in 1900, Congress passed a Coasting Trade Act (Foraker Act) which states that all merchandise traded between the island and the United States was to be transported on ships in the United States merchant marine, which was more expensive than that of other countries. It also outlawed cockfighting. The only change since then has been that cockfighting is now legal. In a 1999 study, it was understood that Puerto Ricans pay an extra 20% on all imports, due to the Trade Act, causing Puerto Ricans to overpay over $1 Billion today and adding to the over $50 Billion untaxed monies that leave for the U.S. Mainland every year.
Furthermore, after “Gonzales v. Williams” of 1902, which determined that Puerto Ricans were “non-citizen nationals”, which meant that conscription (the precursor to the Draft, which had been enacted since 1863) could not be enforced, U.S. Citizenship was IMPOSED on the Puerto Rican People on March 2, 1917 via the, Jones–Shafroth Act (Jones Act of Puerto Rico). Two months later the Selective Service Act of 1917 was passed and extended to the Island, which was used to draft over 20,000 Puerto Rican Soldiers into World War I.
Now, US Citizenship is a privilege. Our people have only been good for war, trade and land, while unable to have a vote on any matter pertaining to our situation.
U.S. Citizenship has brought privileges to all those people living in Incorporated/Unincorporated Organized/Unorganized Protectorates/Territories of the U.S., but having fought and died for the Stars and Stripes for the past 100 years we have earned the right to our Citizenship not by birth but by blood and honor.
The privilege has been all yours.
A native Puerto Rican U.S. Citizen
I feel remiss; as a born U. S. citizen, born in New York City, I was only able to vote for Sen. Obama in the Democratic primaries. This is a policy that exists for U. S. citizens living in U. S. Territories, that we as citizens forfeit the right to vote for the President.
What I find just as disturbing is that Jewish American citizens living in Israel are able to vote in America for the President. There is the belief that because the Territories are ninety percent black, ethnic people, that we would be too large a voting bloc.
As citizens of the U. S. of America, it is our right to vote for those who will have an impact on our lives in the territories.
This is a Change that needs to be addressed.