On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition to review a lower court’s decision last year denying birthright citizenship in U.S. territories. As a result, the lower court’s decision stands as the law of the land. As a U.S. insular territory, the decision affects U.S. Virgin Islands natives.
Leneuoti Tuaua, the lead plaintiff in the case, was denied the opportunity to pursue a career in law enforcement in California, where citizenship is a job requirement.
Neal Weare, an attorney who has made citizenship and voting rights in the insular territories a personal cause, argued the case before the D.C. Circuit. Weare is president of We the People, a nonprofit that advocates for equal rights and representation in U.S. territories.
Delegate Stacey Plaskett and an array of current and former congressional delegates and governors from the USVI, Guam and Puerto Rico were among those petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to issue what is called a writ of certiorari, to review the D.C. Circuit’s decision in the case.
Tuaua v. United States makes the case that Congress cannot legislate an exception to the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment to withhold citizenship from persons born in U.S. territories.
In June 2015, a three-judge federal appellate court for the Washington, D.C., circuit ruled in Tuaua v. United States that people born in the U.S. territory of American Samoa have no claim to U.S. birthright citizenship under the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Federal statutes currently classify American Samoans as “noncitizen nationals” of the United States, in contrast to the USVI, where residents are U.S. citizens by statute, but not necessarily by birthright.
The territories petitioned to have the full circuit hear the case but were turned down in October.
In February, former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson filed a petition for certiorari seeking Supreme Court review of the D.C. Circuit’s decision holding that birthright citizenship is not a “fundamental right” in U.S. territories.
On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a notice that it was denying the writ of certiorari.
The court is currently short one member, since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia earlier this year. It is bitterly divided, with an even four-four split on many issues. If the court were to hear the case and were deadlocked four to four, the lower court’s decision would stand, which is also the effect of its decision to deny certiorari.
Weare did not respond Tuesday to an emailed request for comment. A statement on his organization’s Facebook page Monday said that while it was "(d)isappointing to see the court support an expansive view of federal control in U.S. territories while permitting an expansion of the narrow view of rights in U.S. territories established by the Plessy-era Insular Cases" that "our fight for equal rights and representation will continue despite this setback."