« Aaron Knapp: The Jurisprudence of Constitutional Reform in 1787
Michael Ramsey
| Main | On "Of the Laws" and Gay Marriage
Chris Green »

02/21/2014

Neil Weare on Samoan Citizenship
Michael Ramsey

At CNN Opinion, Neil Weare: Citizenship Is a Birthright in U.S. Territories (discussing an interesting pending case, Tuaua v. United States (D.C. Cir)).  As he explains: 

Tens of thousands of Americans who hold U.S. passports are denied legal recognition as U.S. citizens. The reason? They happen to be born in the U.S.territory of American Samoa instead of somewhere else in the United States.

It’s not widely known (I didn’t know it until recently) that people born in American Samoa are, by statute, designated “U.S. nationals” but not “U.S. citizens.”  If they want to be U.S. citizens, they have to be nationalized like people from other countries.

But, as the suit points out, the first sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment says that “All persons born ... in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”  This obviously included U.S. territories in the western United States at the time.  As Weare further argues, it’s somewhat difficult to see how, under the Amendment’s original meaning, it doesn’t also include overseas territories such as Samoa, which are clearly (a) part of U.S. territory and (b) subject to U.S. jurisdiction.  (The culprit here, of course, is the Supreme Court’s convenient but somewhat dubious set of opinions in the Insular Cases, which held that certain overseas territories acquired after the Spanish-American War did not receive the full protection of the Constitution).