Certain U.S. Territory Citizens Still Not U.S. Citizens

U.S. Territory civil rights advocates aren't too psyched about it.

The Supreme Court faces the question of where the Insular Cases stand as they consider whether the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico violates the Appointments Clause of the Constitution.

U.S. Supreme Court upholds Insular Cases

U.S. Territories faced a small defeat in the fight to recognize its people as U.S. citizens.

In the most recent opinion on the case of Fitisemanu v. U.S., the Supreme Court maintained that certain territory citizens “shall be nationals, but not citizens of the U.S. at birth.

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“Very disappointing.”

“Not too surprising, but still a big deal and very disappointing,” were the words of Equally American’s founder Neil Weare.

John Fitisemanu, the Amercan Samoan man advocating for citizenship in U.S. Territories.

His comment follows the Solicitor General’s opinion to deny John Fitisemanu’s request to bring his case up to federal attention.

Fitisemanu and Weare have been fighting to recognize those born in American Samoa as U.S. citizens since 2018.

Their case heavily refers to the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Fitisemanu claims that the clause makes him a citizen of the U.S. by “virtue of [his] birth in American Samoa.”

The Justices’ Opinion

In response to Fitisemanu, The Solicitor General cited laws and the opinions of several Supreme Court justices in their brief.

One justice, Judge Lucero, opposed applying the Citizenship Clause in American Samoa, saying it would be “impractical and anomalous.”

That is to say, according to Lucero, “birthright citizenship does not qualify as a fundamental right.”

On the other hand, Justice Bacharach, disagreed with Judge Lucero. He argued that citizenship should be extended as a fundamental right.

Justice Lucero
Justice Bacharach

With all the laws and opinions the brief cited, the Court boiled the solution down to this:

Advising American Samoa’s citizens to form a consensus in favor of birthright citizenship. Then, having them contact their U.S. delegate to advocate their consensus.

However, The American Samoan government and its U.S. delegate already concluded that Congress has the “unilateral power to deny citizenship to people born in the territories.”

As a result, American Samoan Attorney Charles Ala’ilima commented on the government’s stance, saying, “As long as the U.S. flag flies overhead our people have a constitutional right to be recognized as citizens that Congress has no power to deny.”

Local support

Current and former elected officials from the Territories have expressed their support for recognizing a right to citizenship in the territories. 

For example, one of the most notable efforts Guam’s delegate Michael San Nicolas has made for citizens in the U.S. Territories was his Guam Supplemental Security Income Equality Act.

Congressman Michael San Nicolas

His bill aimed to extend the supplemental security income program to Guam.

Receiving U.S. federal assistance has been a continuing legal issue among residents in the territories because of the Supreme Court’s opinion of its citizens.

However, San Nicolas’s bill has yet to cross over to the Senate for consideration.

At the end of the Supreme Court’s brief concluded that John Fitisemanu’s request to bring his case to a higher court should be denied.

Fitisemanu and Weare intend to file an appeal which is anticipated to be heard by the Supreme Court later this fall.

Reach reporter Devin Eligio: devin@spbguam.com