Supreme Court declines to rule on what makes a US citizen

SCOTUS After Scalia

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to decide who becomes a US citizen at birth, in a case brought by a group of American Samoans.

Since 1900, American Samoa has been a territory of the United States. But unlike residents of other US territories, including Puerto Rico and Guam, its residents are declared by Congress to be "non-citizen nationals."

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Accordingly, they cannot vote in U.S. elections, run for public office, or serve as officers in the U.S. military. Their passports are stamped "The bearer is a United States National and Not a United States Citizen."

Five people born there 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."

Among those suing were Fanuatanu Mamea, a Vietnam veteran who was awarded two Purple Hearts but who was denied his request to serve in the U.S. Special Forces, and Emy Afalava, who served in Kuwait during the first Gulf war but cannot vote in a U.S. election.

The resolution of the case "governs whether tens of thousands of Americans born in American Samoa — many of whom have patriotically defended their country in the military — may finally call themselves American citizens," said Washington, DC lawyer Theodore Olson, who urged the justices to take the case.

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Supreme Court declines to rule on what makes a US citizen
Immigrants from 25 countries take the oath of citizenship during a naturalization ceremony in Daley Plaza on September 16, 2014 in Chicago, Illinipois. Seventy people were awarded their U.S. citizenship at the Citizenship Day ceremony. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Immigrants take oath of citizenship to the United States on November 20, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. Sixty immigrants from 25 countries became American citizens during the naturalization ceremony at the U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) office at Newark's Federal Building. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
New American citizens celebrate at a naturalization ceremony on November 20, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. Sixty immigrants from 25 countries became American citizens during the ceremony at the U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS), office at Newark's Federal Building. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
New U.S. citizens, including Nicole Annete Flood from Mexico (C), attend a naturalization ceremony at Liberty State Park on September 19, 2014 in Jersey City, New Jersey. Forty immigrants from 18 different countries became American citizens at the event, held by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), on Constitution and Citizenship Day. This week USCIS will have naturalized more than 27,000 new citizens at 160 ceremonies nationwide. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
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The Obama administration fought to defend the current non-citizen status. So did the government of American Samoa, which said in a Supreme Court brief that a change could threaten traditional Samoan cultural practices, such as large, extended families and communal land ownership.

The Justice Department said US territories are not "in the United States" within the meaning of the Constitution, so only Congress can confer citizenship, as it has for all territories except American Samoa.

The court said Monday in a brief unsigned order that it would not near the appeal.

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