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Opinion
Noah Feldman

People of American Samoa Aren't Fully American

Supreme Court needs to step in to resolve a citizenship mess.
Almost paradise.

Almost paradise.

Photographer: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

The circumstances of the birth of Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz put constitutional citizenship into the headlines. Also in the news: A federal judge in Puerto Rico ruled last week that the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay-marriage decision doesn’t follow the flag to the island. What would happen if you mashed the two issues together, mixing birthright citizenship with the Constitution’s applicability to U.S. territories?

The answer to this otherwise random-seeming question is in fact before the Supreme Court right now. At issue is whether it’s constitutional for Congress to deny birthright citizenship to people born in American Samoa, which has been a U.S. territory since 1900. In June, a conservative panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the congressional rule, which uniquely applies to American Samoa and no other U.S. territory. Now the Samoan-born plaintiffs are asking the Supreme Court to review the D.C. Circuit’s decision -- and asking Congress to change the rules.