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Tuaua v. United States

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

February 9, 2015, Argued; June 5, 2015, Decided

No. 13-5272


 [*301]   [**370]  Brown, Circuit Judge: In our constitutional republic, Justice Brandeis observed, the title of citizen is superior to the title of President. Thus, the questions "[w]ho is the citizen[?]" and "what is the meaning of the term?" Aristotle, Politics bk. 3, reprinted in part in Readings In Political Philosophy 55, 61 (Francis W. Coker ed., 1938), are no less than the questions of "who constitutes the sovereign state?" and "what is the meaning of statehood as an association?" We are called upon to resolve one narrow circumstance implicating these weighty inquiries. Appellants are individuals born in the United States territory of American Samoa. Statutorily deemed "non-citizen nationals" at birth, they argue the Fourteenth Amendment's Citizenship Clause affords them citizenship by dint of birthright. They are opposed not merely by the United States but by the democratically elected government of the American Samoan people. We sympathize with Appellants' individual plights, apparently more freighted with duty and sacrifice  [*302]   [**371]  than benefits and privilege, but the Citizenship Clause is textually ambiguous as to whether "in the United States" encompasses America's unincorporated [***3]  territories and we hold it "impractical and anomalous," see Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1, 75, 77 S. Ct. 1222, 1 L. Ed. 2d 1148 (1957), to impose citizenship by judicial fiat—where doing so requires us to override the democratic prerogatives of the American Samoan people themselves. The judgment of the district court is affirmed; ] the Citizenship Clause does not extend birthright citizenship to those born in American Samoa.

The South Pacific islands of American Samoa have been a United States territory since 1900, when the traditional leaders of the Samoan Islands of Tutuila and Aunu'u voluntarily ceded their sovereign authority to the United States Government. See Instrument of Cession by the Chiefs of Tutuila Islands to United States Government, U.S.-Tutuila, Apr. 17, 1900. Today the American Samoan territory is partially self-governed, possessing a popularly elected bicameral legislature and similarly elected governor.1 Complaint at 13 ¶ 27, Tuaua v. United States, 951 F. Supp. 2d 88 (D.D.C. 2013) (No. 12-cv-01143). The territory, however, remains under the ultimate supervision of the Secretary of the Interior. See Exec. Order No. 10,264 (June 29, 1951) (transferring supervisory authority from the Secretary of the Navy to the Secretary of the Interior).

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788 F.3d 300 *; 415 U.S. App. D.C. 369 **; 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 9359 ***


Subsequent History: Rehearing denied by Tuaua v. United States, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 12245 (D.C. Cir., July 15, 2015)

Rehearing, en banc, denied by Tuaua v. United States, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 17414 (D.C. Cir., Oct. 2, 2015)

US Supreme Court certiorari denied by Tuaua v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2461, 2016 U.S. LEXIS 3881 (U.S., June 13, 2016)

Prior History:  [***1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. (No. 1:12-cv-01143).

Tuaua v. United States, 951 F. Supp. 2d 88, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89602 (D.D.C., 2013)

Disposition: Affirmed.


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Immigration Law, Types of US Citizenship, Collective Naturalization, Governments, State & Territorial Governments, General Overview, Constitutional Law, Bill of Rights, Legislation, Interpretation, Courts, Judicial Precedent, Citizenship by Descent