Aumua Declares Court’s Ruling Respects Democracy in American Samoa

June 13, 2016
Press Release

Washington D.C. –Monday, Congresswoman Aumua Amata, issued the following statement after the United States Supreme Court denied the appeal to hear the Tuaua Case, which had been ruled down in District Court last year.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will not consider further, an appeal by lawyers in the Tuaua case, in which a small group of Samoans residing in American Samoa and on the U.S. Mainland together, sought to have U.S. citizenship as a right of birth in American Samoa.

I am grateful the court rejected this claim, as did every lower court that considered the issue from the beginning of the process.  All federal courts to address the issue now have rejected the idea that a new status for people in American Samoa should be imposed by the judicial branch of government, without any democratic consultation with the island people.

The court's order rejecting the appeal without comment, recognizes that changing the citizenship status and rights of American Samoans involves political questions that can and should be decided by the people of American Samoa through democratic self-determination.  The court's decision also recognizes at the federal level that changes to the political status and rights of people in American Samoa now and in the future involve issues of national law and policy that can and should be addressed first and foremost by Congress.     

If the court had done what those who supported the Tuaua case demanded, it would have been judicial nullification of the official legal and policy expressions of the elected leaders of American Samoa, seeking to defend the democratic rights of the people.  As elected leaders we did not want to cede even greater powers to the federal courts in Washington.  I have never been opposed to U.S. citizenship for American Samoans only the process of imposing it by judicial fiat.

At a House hearing last year on Interior policies towards the islands, in the wake of the federal government’s announcement creating a national monument on our fishing grounds without adequate local consultation, I said I would not stand quietly for the imposition of environmental colonialism on our people.  In joining this suit as a friend of the court, I was just as determined not to stand quietly for the imposition of judicial colonialism on our people and I am pleased the courts have agreed, there is no legal gimmick to avoid the real political status choices territories have to make but it is up to the territories to make them. No court ordered edict can substitute for democratic self-determination.  As such, the court's ruling shows respect for democracy and local as well as federal rule of law under the Constitution in American Samoa. 

Frankly, I believe this case never should have been brought in the first place. Among its most basic flaws was to mix plaintiffs living in American Samoa with those living in the states.  It was always inconceivable to me that in order to grant relief to a few plaintiffs in the states the courts would issue a ruling that would impact the lives of all the people living in the islands. 

The court's order did not comment on legal issues raised earlier in the Tuaua case, or the earlier lower court rulings that resulted in dismissal of the case.  This leaves no room for further confusion about the case or the legal issues raised in the briefs filed by the parties or in the opinions of the lower courts. 

That means the rulings of the lower court stand, and that the highest court, the court of last resort, believes the record resulting in dismissal to the case and the outcome of the case does not raise a constitutional or legal issue that deserves to be considered further, or to take up the court's time.  This makes it clear the case has taken up far too much time and created undue confusion distracting people in all the territories from the real issues and choices.

Other territories have their own political status aspirations and related questions such as their form of citizenship. For my part, I would support those aspirations as expressed through the free will of their people and elected leaders. At the same time, I would never take a role in any lawsuit that did not involve the people of American Samoa.

The courts should not be used to get political results when the democratic political process does not produce the outcome we want.   The courts are for legal disputes when legal rights are denied, and the political process in Congress is where the will of the people must first be expressed to seek political status changes.

If and when the people of American Samoa express a desire to have U.S. citizenship, I will introduce legislation promptly.  Meanwhile, I look forward to consulting with American Samoan U.S. nationals residing in the states to see what can be done legislatively to speed the path towards citizenship of any who desire it.”

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