What is the relationship between citizenship and issues relating to land and culture in American Samoa?


The legal argument over whether the U.S. Constitution prohibits the federal government from denying citizenship to people born in American Samoa is separate and distinct from legal issues relating to the constitutionality of American Samoa’s communal land and title systems.


In a 1980 decision, Craddick v. Territorial Registrar, federal judges sitting by designation on the High Court of American Samoa held that American Samoa’s land laws survived constitutional scrutiny based on “a compelling state interest in preserving the lands of American Samoa for Samoans and in preserving the Fa’a Samoa, or Samoan culture.” 1 Am Samoa 2d 11, 12 (1980), available here.  Nowhere in the Court’s analysis did the issue of citizenship or non-citizen national status come into consideration, nor did the court rely in any way on the Insular Cases framework. 


Federal courts have upheld similar laws in the U.S. territory of the Northern Mariana Islands, where people are recognized as U.S. citizens at birth.


To the extent there are any unresolved questions about the constitutionality of land ownership restrictions in U.S. territories, these questions are separate from whether people born in America Samoa are recognized as citizens.  


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