The landmark ruling made last week involving American Samoa is one of the first times a federal judge has struck down a federal law as unconstitutional, says Equally American president and founder Neil Weare.
Weare said this is a step forward because it holds the federal government and Congress to account when it comes to them denying equality and equal rights to the territories.
Unlike those born in U.S. territories like Guam who are U.S. citizens at birth, American Samoans have long been deemed non-citizen nationals. But the recent ruling by the United States District Court of Utah has found that this inferior status is unconstitutional and in violation of the citizenship clause of the 14h amendment.
“So what that means is if you are born in U.S. soil, in U.S. territory, you have a constitutional right to citizenship regardless of what Congress says. And so the situation in American Samoa is that there’s a discriminatory federal law that labels people born in American Samoa with the inferior status of non-citizen national,” Weare said.
Currently, American Samoans must go through the burdensome process of naturalization which can cost up to $700 in fees alone. And while the ruling orders American Samoans to be deemed U.S. citizens at birth, a day after the ruling, the judge ordered a stay which places a pause on the ruling until the appeals court can decide to either affirm the decision or reverse the decision.
Weare says the judge’s ruling while it is focused on the question of citizenship, has much broader significance. The ruling suggests that contrary to the decision that some federal judges have made or some federal courts have made, Congress’ expansive powers in the territories are restricted by certain parts of the Constitution including the citizenship clause.
“And this is important because this is a range of rights that people take for granted in Guam that the federal government’s position is based solely on the discretion and whims of Congress,” Weare said.
He says they are now waiting for the defendants to appeal the case which they anticipate will occur in the coming days or weeks. From there, the case will be made before the 10th Circuit, arguing that constitutional rights, including the right to citizenship, apply throughout the United States including US Territories like American Samoa and Guam.