A U.S. appeals court on Friday ruled against a group of American Samoans who had argued that those born in the U.S. territory in the South Pacific should be eligible for U.S. citizenship at birth. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, noting that both the U.S. government and the government in American Samoa opposed the campaign, rejected the legal challenge made by named plaintiff Leneuoti Fiafia Tuaua and seven others. Writing on behalf of a three-judge panel, Judge Janice Rogers Brown said the court was sympathetic to the claim, but reluctant to “impose citizenship by judicial fiat – where doing so requires us to override the democratic prerogatives of the American Samoan people themselves.”
The court held that the so-called citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment does not extend to unincorporated U.S. territories.
The clause says that “all persons born … in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”
Citizenship would have made the plaintiffs eligible for full U.S. passports and such rights as being able to vote while residing in a state. Currently, Samoans can obtain U.S. passports with an imprint describing them as noncitizen U.S. nationals.