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Supreme Court Won’t Weigh What Makes A U.S. Citizen

June 13, 2016, 8:47 PM UTC
Justice Antonin Scalia's Body Lies in Repose At U.S. Supreme Court
Leigh Vogel — WireImage

On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to decide who becomes a U.S. citizen at birth.

The case was brought up by a group of American Samoans who filed a lawsuit claiming their non-citizen status violates a provision of the 14th Amendment that says “all persons born or naturalized in the States States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.” Instead of ruling on the case, the court said that it would not hear the appeal in a brief unsigned order.

The move affirms the status quo: American Samoans have no automatic claim to U.S. citizenship by birth despite living in a U.S. territory.

Since 1900, American Samoa has been a territory of the United States. However, unlike residents of other U.S. territories like Puerto Rico and Guam, Congress declares its residents to be “non-citizen nationals.”

According to NBC News, the Justice Department said U.S. territories are not “in the United States” within the meaning of the Constitution, only Congress can confer citizenship. It has for all territories except American Samoa.


Among those suing were Fanuatanu Mamea and Emy Afalava. Mamea is a Vietnam veteran who was awarded two Purple Hearts but was unable to serve in the U.S. Special Forces. Afalava served in Kuwait during the first Gulf war but cannot vote in a U.S. election, as reported by NBC News.

As some seek citizenship, others are giving it up. A list from the Federal Register showed a record number of Americans renounced their citizenship in 2015, as has been the trend for the past three years.