Court Battles

Supreme Court won’t hear American Samoans’ birthright citizenship case

The Supreme Court on Monday turned away an appeal that had urged the justices to interpret the Constitution as conferring birthright citizenship on people born in American Samoa.

The court’s denial came in a one-line order without explanation or noted dissent. The justices’ vote breakdown was not disclosed, as is typical, but the court’s rejection means fewer than four voted to hear the appeal.

The lawsuit, brought by a group of American Samoans, challenged a set of infamous Supreme Court precedents known as the “Insular Cases,” which were decided more than a century ago.

These cases held that people born in American Samoa and other unincorporated U.S. territories are not entitled to birthright citizenship under the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The challengers, who were backed by a Utah-based nonprofit group, won the first round of litigation in 2019. This prompted an appeal by the U.S. government, which was joined by the government of American Samoa.

On appeal, a Denver-based federal appellate court found that the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment was ambiguous on the question of American Samoans’ birthright citizenship. The divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit further ruled that the Insular Cases were still good law, even as they acknowledged those cases to be “racist” and “disreputable.”

The 10th Circuit panel said the authority to grant citizenship to people born in American Samoa resides with Congress, which previously conferred the right on Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Supreme Court’s denial leaves intact the appeals court’s ruling.

Tags 14th Amendment American Samoa birthright citizenship insular cases Supreme Court
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