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Court rejects appeal to give American Samoans citizenship

•  Exams     updated  2022/10/17 11:16


The Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal seeking to give people born in American Samoa U.S. citizenship.

In leaving in place an appeals court decision, the court also passed up an invitation to overturn a series of decisions dating back to 1901 known as the Insular Cases, replete with racist and anti-foreign rhetoric. Justice Neil Gorsuch had called for the cases to be overturned in April.

But the justices refused to take up an appeal from people born in American Samoa, and living in Utah, who argued that a federal law declaring that they are “nationals, but not citizens, of the United States at birth” is unconstitutional.

A trial judge in Utah ruled in their favor, but the federal appeals court in Denver said Congress, not courts, should decide the citizenship issue. The appeals court also noted that American Samoa’s elected leaders opposed the lawsuit for fear that it might disrupt their cultural traditions.

American Samoa is the only unincorporated territory of the United States where the inhabitants are not American citizens at birth.

Instead, those born in the cluster of islands some 2,600 miles (4,184 kilometers) southwest of Hawaii are granted “U.S. national” status, meaning they can’t vote for U.S. president, run for office outside American Samoa or apply for certain jobs. The only federal election they can cast a vote in is the race for American Samoa’s nonvoting U.S. House seat.

The Insular Cases, which arose following the Spanish-American War, dealt with the administration of overseas territories.

In their conclusion that residents of territories had some, but not all, rights under the Constitution, justices wrote in stark racial and xenophobic terms. Citizenship could not be automatically given to “those absolutely unfit to receive it,” one justice wrote.

That history prompted Gorsuch to comment in a case involving benefits denied to people who live in Puerto Rico, decided in April. He wrote that the Insular Cases were wrongly decided because they deprived residents of U.S. territories of some constitutional rights.



Maine lobster fishermen have hired a former high-ranking U.S. Department of Justice official to represent them in their case against new laws intended to protect whales.

The Maine Lobstermen’s Association is appealing its case against the new rules to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The group said Tuesday it has hired Paul Clement, who served as U.S. solicitor general from 2004 to 2008, to represent it in the case.

The solicitor general supervises all Supreme Court litigation for the U.S., and Clement has argued dozens of cases in front of the high court. That’s where the lobstermen’s case could ultimately be headed, he said Tuesday.

The new fishing restrictions have pushed the industry to the brink of collapse, Clement said.

“You have administrative overreach. The implications are easy to understand,” he said. “It directly threatens really one of the most iconic American industries. Everyone who has ever enjoyed a lobster can appreciate this.”

The lobster fishermen sued the National Marine Fisheries Service, and in September a judge denied their request to stop the regulators from placing the new restrictions on fishing. The restrictions are designed to protect the North Atlantic right whale, which numbers less than 340 and is vulnerable to entanglement in fishing gear.

The fisheries service has declined to comment on the lawsuit. The Maine Lobstermen’s Association also said it planned to file court papers on Tuesday asking for its appeal to be expedited because of the jeopardy posed to the fishery by the new rules.

Environmental groups have long pushed for stronger protections for the right whales, which were devastated generations ago during the commercial whaling era. The groups have made their own case in court that the federal government should be doing more to protect the whales.



A voucher program that would provide West Virginia parents state money to pull their children out of K-12 public schools is blatantly unconstitutional and would disproportionately impact poor children and those with disabilities, a lawyer representing parents who sued the state argued Tuesday in West Virginia’s Supreme Court.

The Hope Scholarship Program, which was passed by the GOP-controlled state legislature last year and would have been one of the most far-reaching school choice programs in the country, “negatively and intentionally” impacts West Virginia’s system of free schools, lawyer Tamerlin Godley told justices during oral arguments.

“It decreases enrollment, and thus funding,” said Godley, who is representing two parents of children who receive special education supports in West Virginia public schools. “It utilizes public funding for subsidizing more affluent families that have chosen private and homeschooling and it silos the poor and special needs children who cannot use the vouchers.”

Signed by Republican Gov. Jim Justice last year, the program was set to go into effect this school year but was blocked by Circuit Court Judge Joanna Tabit in July. In a lawsuit supported by the West Virginia Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools, three parents of special education students said the scholarship program takes money away from already underfunded public schools and is prohibitive because there aren’t local private schools that could meet their children’s needs. One family has since withdrawn from the case.

The state immediately appealed the ruling. It’s unclear when justices will make a decision on the program, although the court’s current term ends in November.

The law that created the Hope Scholarship Program allows families to apply for state funding to support private school tuition, homeschooling fees and a wide range of other expenses. More than 3,000 students had been approved to receive around $4,300 each during the program’s inaugural cycle, according to the West Virginia State Treasurer’s Office.

Families could not receive the money if their children were already homeschooled or attending private school. To qualify, students had to have been enrolled in a West Virginia public school last year or set to begin kindergarten this school year.

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