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Media Alerts - Tuaua v. United States
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June 9, 2015
  Tuaua v. United States
Headline: D.C. Circuit says Constitution does not confer U.S. citizenship on individuals born in the unincorporated U.S. territory of American Samoa.

Area of Law: Constitutional Law

Issue Presented: Whether the Fourteenth Amendment's Citizenship Clause confers U.S. citizenship on individuals born in the U.S. territory of American Samoa.

Brief Summary: Appellants, individuals born in the U.S. territory of American Samoa and statutorily deemed "non-citizen nationals," brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia claiming a right to citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment's Citizenship Clause. The district court dismissed the case for failure to state a claim.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed. The court first found that the application of the Citizenship Clause to territories was not obvious from the plain text or other indicia of the framers' intent. Applying the territorial incorporation framework set forth in the Insular Cases, the court distinguished incorporated territories intended for statehood, as to which the entire Constitution automatically applies, from unincorporated territories not intended for statehood, as to which only certain "fundamental" rights apply. Because American Samoa is an unincorporated territory, the court proceeded to a practical inquiry whether the Citizenship Clause is a fundamental right within the meaning of the Insular Cases framework. The court first observed that "fundamental" has a narrow meaning in the context of territorial rights, applying only to principles that are integral to all free government. Because in many free and democratic societies, birthright citizenship passes by the nationality of a child's parents (jus sanguinis) and is not extended to all those born in the sovereign's domain (jus soli), the court determined that there is no set, fundamental determinant of citizenship that is integral to free society. Turning to practical considerations, the court found that there was no collective consensus among American Samoan people in favor of U.S. citizenship. The court concluded that it would be anomalous and culturally imperialistic to hold that the Constitution imposed citizenship over the objections of American Samoans themselves, as expressed through their elected representatives. Accordingly, the court declined to extend the Citizenship Clause to encompass those born in American Samoa. For the full text of this decision, please visit

Panel: Brown, Silberman, and Sentelle

Date Argued: February 9, 2015

Date of Issued Opinion: June 5, 2015

Docket Number: No. 13-5272

Decided: Affirmed.

Counsel: Neil C. Weare, Robert J. Katerberg, Murad S. Hussain, Elliott C. Mogul, and Dawn Y. Yamane Hewett for Appellants. Wynne P. Kelly, Ronald C. Machen Jr., and R. Craig Lawrence for Appellees.

Author of Opinion: Circuit Judge Brown

Case Alert Author: Elizabeth Earle Beske

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Elizabeth Earle Beske and Ripple Weistling

    Posted By: Ripple Weistling @ 06/09/2015 09:14 AM     DC Circuit  

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