On October 17, 2022, the Supreme Court denied cert in the case of Fitisemanu v. United States, bringing an end to litigation that sought to make residents of American Samoa U.S. citizens by birth. Despite the Court’s refusal to hear the case, the litigation has made an impact.
Fitisemanu is now a voice of authority on the issue of citizenship rights, not only for American Samoans but also potentially for Puerto Ricans. The crux of the matter lies in the contention of the petitioners that, as American Samoans, they are entitled to birthright citizenship under the protective umbrella of the Fourteenth Amendment. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit upended a lower district court’s affirmation of their birthright citizenship claims, and the Supreme Court opted not to review the case. The implications of the Tenth Circuit’s reasoning, which denied birthright citizenship to those born in American Samoa, a U.S. territory, extends to Puerto Rico.
Setting an Influential Precedent
A pivotal outcome of this ruling is the establishment of a definitive precedent that birthright citizenship does not inherently extend to those born in U.S. territories as an essential right. By forgoing the application of Constitutional safeguards enshrined within Article I of the Fourteenth Amendment to American Samoans and other territorial-born individuals, the court’s stance clarifies the available pathways to citizenship, a clarification that resonates with Puerto Rico’s situation.
The Impact on Puerto Rican Citizenship
What ramifications might this have for Puerto Rico? The Court’s decision underscores the stance that inhabitants of U.S. territories are not inherently entitled to birthright citizenship. This implication signifies that the repeal of the 1940 Nationality Act could lead to a scenario where Puerto Ricans in the United States might no longer be assured of retaining their citizenship and the accompanying constitutional protections.
Delving further, the echoes of the 1940 Nationality Act’s relevance are not confined solely to Puerto Rico and American Samoa but also extent to the three other populated U.S. territories of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, potentially impacting their citizens’ understanding of their citizenship rights. The interplay between birthright citizenship and territorial status takes center stage, sparking debates about the nature of broader constitutional guarantees within these territories.
The Fitisemanu decision was a consequential ruling, touching upon the heart of citizenship rights and their extension to U.S. territories. Its implications resonate in the nuanced discussions surrounding Puerto Rico’s aspirations, while also reframing broader conversations about the relationship between territorial status, birthright citizenship, and the constitutional framework that binds these territories to the United States.