American Samoans are the latest victims of these ignorant Supreme Court rulings | Steve Vladeck/MSNBC
The principle that anyone born in the United States is an American citizen is enshrined in the 14th Amendment. But in a divided decision Tuesday, a federal appeals court reaffirmed the unique inapplicability of the citizenship clause to one of America’s six federal territories— American Samoa, the only one of the six where birthright citizenship does not currently apply. The ruling in Fitisemanu v. United States doesn’t just rest on a deeply flawed understanding of the 14th Amendment. It also breathes new life into a long since discredited distinction that the Supreme Court drew in the early 20th century — one in which territories that just happened to be predominantly white received full constitutional protections, while those that were not … didn’t. … One might wonder why it’s such a big deal that a federal appeals court has held that 50,000 Americans aren’t constitutionally entitled to birthright citizenship. The answer is two-fold: First, to reach that result, the court had to both ignore the original purpose and context of the citizenship clause and revive the deeply problematic rationale of the Insular Cases. Second, and more fundamentally, one of the two central goals of the post-Civil War amendments was to hard-wire into the Constitution the idea that there’s only one class of American — to repudiate not only the institution of slavery, but also the caste system it created. The more that contemporary courts recognize circumstances in which our compatriots are not treated as equals, the more they open the door to additional erosions of this fundamental ideal.