It is now commonly observed that the meaning of “federalism” is not fixed but shifts over time to serve various ends and to encompass different conceptions of the proper relationship between the states and the national government.1×1. See, e.g., Randy E. Barnett, Three Federalisms, 39 Loy. U. Chi. L.J. 285, 285 (2008) (“[N]ot one, but three distinct versions of federalism . . . have developed since the Founding of this country. Each version of federalism developed during a different era in our constitutional history . . . .”); Heather K. Gerken, Our Federalism(s), 53 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 1549, 1551 (2012) (“[T]here are many federalisms, not one.”). The same is increasingly true of a less familiar corner of constitutional law: the doctrine governing the reach of the Constitution in the territorial possessions of the United States. For more than a century, the series of Supreme Court decisions known as the Insular Cases has provided a framework under which some but not all constitutional rights extend to territorial residents. The doctrine has a checkered past. Critics both historical and modern have attacked it as an instrument of “Imperial Constitutionalism,”2×2. Christina Duffy Ponsa, When Statehood Was Autonomy, in Reconsidering the Insular Cases 1, 25 (Gerald L. Neuman & Tomiko Brown-Nagin eds., 2015). colonial domination, and racist subordination of the U.S. territories. Some judge the doctrine to be “meaningless” today and regard the cases “as dead letters, as constitutional aberrations.”3×3. Eric A. Posner, The Limits of Limits, New Republic (May 5, 2010), https://newrepublic.com/article/74824/the-limits-limits-0 [https://perma.cc/E7D5-RY6A] (reviewing Kal Raustiala, Does the Constitution Follow the Flag?: The Evolution of Territoriality in American Law (2009)); see also Bartholomew H. Sparrow, The Insular Cases and the Emergence of American Empire 214 (2006) (“[T]he Insular Cases — a hundred years later — seem to be the artifacts of a distant past, a different world.”). But the Supreme Court has continued to invoke the Insular Cases framework in twenty-first-century disputes involving the struggle against international terrorism among other cutting-edge issues. Other scholars, and increasingly federal judges, have lately recognized the opportunity to repurpose the framework in order to protect indigenous culture from the imposition of federal scrutiny and oversight. The Insular Cases, like Our Federalism,4×4. Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 44 (1971). contain multitudes.5×5. Gerken, supra note 1, at 1551; see also Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass 246 (Library of Am. 1992) (1891–92).
The recent decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Tuaua v. United States,6×6. 788 F.3d 300 (D.C. Cir. 2015). rejecting a plea for the extension of constitutional birthright citizenship to American Samoa,7×7. Id. at 302. illustrates an important shift in the federal courts’ use of the doctrine. While the Insular Cases were originally conceived as instruments of American expansion in the era of Manifest Destiny, they have today been reclaimed to serve as bulwarks for cultural preservation. Recent case law including Tuaua points up a conflict between the extension of individual constitutional rights and the protection of territorial culture. But that observation raises still more questions about the normative desirability of a pluralist Constitution and the appropriateness of the Insular Cases as a vehicle for that project.
1. The Insular Cases. — The American acquisition of Caribbean and Pacific territories beginning in the late nineteenth century spawned a host of constitutional controversies whose legacy remains with us today. In the Insular Cases, the early-twentieth-century Supreme Court crafted a two-tiered framework for the application of constitutional rights in the U.S. territories. In “incorporated” territories, destined ultimately for statehood, the Constitution applied “with full force.”8×8. Examining Bd. of Eng’rs, Architects & Surveyors v. Flores de Otero, 426 U.S. 572, 599 n.30 (1976). Because Congress expressed a desire to so incorporate the territory of Alaska, for instance, the Court held in 1905 that the Sixth Amendment mandated a right to a jury trial in that territory.9×9. Rassmussen v. United States, 197 U.S. 516, 525 (1905).
But in “unincorporated” territories — those lacking the necessary “anticipation of statehood” — only a narrower class of so-called “fundamental” constitutional rights applied.10×10. Flores de Otero, 426 U.S. at 599 n.30. Thus, the Court held in Dorr v. United States,11×11. 195 U.S. 138 (1904). in 1904, that residents of the Philippines did not enjoy the jury trial right unless Congress saw fit to confer it by statute.12×12. Id. at 149. As Justice Black later observed, the distinction was based on the perceived necessity for Congress to “govern temporarily territories with wholly dissimilar traditions and institutions.”13×13. Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1, 14 (1957) (plurality opinion).
The Insular Cases are a complex collection of decisions whose very definition is contested14×14. The seminal set of turn-of-the-century decisions does not enjoy a strict definition, but is generally considered to include some or all of De Lima v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 1 (1901); Goetze v. United States, 182 U.S. 221 (1901); Dooley v. United States, 182 U.S. 222 (1901); Armstrong v. United States, 182 U.S. 243 (1901); Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244 (1901); Huus v. N.Y. & Porto Rico S.S. Co., 182 U.S. 392 (1901); Dooley v. United States, 183 U.S. 151 (1901); Fourteen Diamond Rings v. United States, 183 U.S. 176 (1901); Hawaii v. Mankichi, 190 U.S. 197 (1903); Dorr, 195 U.S. 138; and Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298 (1922). See Efrén Rivera Ramos, The Insular Cases: What Is There to Reconsider?, in Reconsidering the Insular Cases, supra note 2, at 29, 30 n.2 (enumerating a longer list of twenty-three cases decided between 1901 and 1922, including those listed here); see also Sparrow, supra note 3, at 257–58 (expanding on the list cited by Ramos to reach a total of thirty-five cases). As described below, see infra section B.2, pp. 1690–96, Downes played a particularly key role in the D.C. Circuit’s analysis in 2015. See Tuaua v. United States, 788 F.3d 300, 303, 306–08 (2015). and whose combined holdings “cannot easily be summarized.”15×15. Steve Vladeck, The D.C. Circuit, Samoan Citizenship, and the Insular Cases, Just Security (Feb. 4, 2015, 8:04 AM), https://www.justsecurity.org/19658/samoan-citizenship [https://perma.cc/XD3A-F9AS]. Many of them were divisive even when decided, yielding close and fractured 5–4 decisions at a time with stronger norms of judicial cohesion than today.16×16. See Arnold H. Leibowitz, Defining Status 24 (1989). The question of exactly which rights would apply in the unincorporated territories has proven particularly vexing. The Court originally defined this inescapable core of restrictions on congressional power in terms of “fundamental” rights.17×17. See, e.g., Downes, 182 U.S. at 294–95 (White, J., concurring). But that class of rights proved difficult to define. In Dorr, for instance, Justice Harlan vigorously dissented from the Court’s conclusion that the constitutional provisions guaranteeing jury trial rights “relate to mere methods of procedure and are not fundamental in their nature.”18×18. Dorr, 195 U.S. at 154 (Harlan, J., dissenting).
Half a century later, in Reid v. Covert,19×19. 354 U.S. 1 (1957). the Justices appraised such difficulties in taking a notably jaundiced view of the Insular Cases framework as a whole. Justice Black remarked in his plurality opinion that he could “find no warrant, in logic or otherwise, for picking and choosing among the remarkable collection of ‘Thou shalt nots’ which were explicitly fastened on all departments and agencies of the Federal Government by the Constitution and its Amendments.”20×20. Id. at 9 (plurality opinion). For these and other reasons, the plurality expressed its view, in dicta, that “neither the [Insular C]ases nor their reasoning should be given any further expansion.”21×21. Id. at 14.
But Justice Harlan’s grandson, concurring in Reid, saw “a wise and necessary gloss on our Constitution” in the controversial cases.22×22. Id. at 74 (Harlan, J., concurring in the result). For him, their “basic” and correct teaching was that “there is no rigid and abstract rule that Congress, as a condition precedent to exercising power over Americans overseas, must exercise it subject to all the guarantees of the Constitution.”23×23. Id. Rather than defining the scope of applicable rights in terms of “fundamental” protections, however, the junior Justice Harlan would make a case-by-case determination, “in view of the particular circumstances, the practical necessities, and the possible alternatives which Congress had before it,” as to whether the extension of a particular right to a particular unincorporated territory would be “impractical and anomalous.”24×24. Id. at 75.
Justice Harlan’s view in Reid has garnered support from the modern Court and Justice Kennedy in particular. In 1990, Justice Kennedy endorsed Justice Harlan’s general approach to the application of the Constitution outside of the states in his concurrence in United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez.25×25. 494 U.S. 259, 278 (1990) (Kennedy, J., concurring). Nearly two decades later, in 2008, Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court in Boumediene v. Bush26×26. 553 U.S. 723 (2008). explicitly reaffirmed this understanding of the Insular Cases framework and its continued vitality.27×27. Id. at 759 (“[T]he Court devised in the Insular Cases a doctrine that allowed it to use its power sparingly and where it would be most needed. This century-old doctrine informs our analysis in the present matter.”). Verdugo-Urquidez and Boumediene specifically addressed the related but distinct issue of the Constitution’s application beyond American borders altogether, rather than in the territories.
2. The Citizenship Clause in the Territories. — More recent cases have brought the Insular Cases framework to bear on the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees that “[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”28×28. U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1.
In June 2015, the D.C. Circuit ruled in Tuaua v. United States that “the United States” in the Fourteenth Amendment’s Citizenship Clause does not extend to unincorporated territories.29×29. 788 F.3d 300, 302 (D.C. Cir. 2015). Because Congress has already extended birthright citizenship by statute to the residents of most territories,30×30. 8 U.S.C. § 1402 (2012) (“All persons born in Puerto Rico on or after January 13, 1941, and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, are citizens of the United States at birth.”); id. § 1406(b) (“[A]ll persons born in [the Virgin I]slands on or after February 25, 1927, and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, are declared to be citizens of the United States at birth.”); id. § 1407(b) (“All persons born in the island of Guam on or after April 11, 1899 . . . subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, are declared to be citizens of the United States . . . .”). the decision’s immediate impact is limited to the territory in which it arose: American Samoa. Unique among the territories held by the U.S. government today,31×31. See id. § 1101(a)(29) (“The term ‘outlying possessions of the United States’ means American Samoa and Swains Island[, an atoll administered as part of American Samoa].”); id. § 1408 (“[T]he following shall be nationals, but not citizens, of the United States at birth: . . . A person born in an outlying possession of the United States on or after the date of formal acquisition of such possession . . . .”). This statutory category also included the Philippines when that country was a territory of the United States before it gained independence in 1946. See Tuaua, 788 F.3d at 302 n.2. Similarly, between the American acquisition of Puerto Rico in 1898 and the passage of an organic act for the island in 1900, Congress declined to extend U.S. citizenship and simply designated those born in the territory “citizens of Porto Rico.” See Ponsa, supra note 2, at 27 (describing this “nebulous and undefined status that seemed to amount to little more than an embellished form of statelessness”). persons born in American Samoa are designated under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 195232×32. Pub. L. No. 82-414, 66 Stat. 163 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 8 U.S.C.). (INA) as “non-citizen nationals.”33×33. Tuaua, 788 F.3d at 302; see also 8 U.S.C. § 1408. The American Samoan plaintiffs in Tuaua sought to challenge the constitutionality of that statute and associated State Department regulations34×34. E.g., 7 U.S. Dep’t of State, Foreign Affairs Manual § 1125.1(b) (1996). under the Fourteenth Amendment.35×35. Tuaua, 788 F.3d at 302.
In rejecting that challenge, the D.C. Circuit joined the conclusion of every federal court to have interpreted the Citizenship Clause in its application to unincorporated territories.36×36. See, e.g., Thomas v. Lynch, 796 F.3d 535, 539–42 (5th Cir. 2015) (American military base in Germany); Nolos v. Holder, 611 F.3d 279, 284 (5th Cir. 2010) (Philippines); Lacap v. INS, 138 F.3d 518, 519 (3d Cir. 1998) (Philippines); Valmonte v. INS, 136 F.3d 914, 920 (2d Cir. 1998) (Philippines); Rabang v. INS, 35 F.3d 1449, 1453–54 (9th Cir. 1994) (Philippines); Licudine v. Winter, 603 F. Supp. 2d 129, 134 (D.D.C. 2009) (Philippines); see also Eche v. Holder, 694 F.3d 1026, 1031 (9th Cir. 2012) (interpreting “United States” in Article I’s Naturalization Clause the same way, so as not to include the Philippines pre-1946); Tuaua v. United States, 951 F. Supp. 2d 88, 97 (D.D.C. 2013) (“In short, federal courts have held over and over again that unincorporated territories are not included within the Citizenship Clause, and this Court sees no reason to do otherwise!”), aff’d, 788 F.3d 300. And while the D.C. Circuit granted that the clause was “textually ambiguous as to whether ‘in the United States’ encompasses America’s unincorporated territories,”37×37. Tuaua, 788 F.3d at 302 (quoting U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1). it grounded its decision in decades of Supreme Court case law stretching back to the Insular Cases.
Nevertheless, Tuaua drew national attention and controversy38×38. See, e.g., Noah Feldman, People of American Samoa Aren’t Fully American, Bloomberg View (Mar. 13, 2016, 11:00 AM), http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2016-03-13/people-of-american-samoa-aren-t-fully-american [https://perma.cc/U5YH-DF8P] (“Although the Supreme Court doesn’t ordinarily take cases to correct the errors of courts below, this case should be an exception. The most fundamental constitutional rights are at stake — and the D.C. Circuit panel’s opinion almost certainly got the law wrong.”); Mark Joseph Stern, The Supreme Court Needs to Settle Birthright Citizenship, Slate (June 6, 2016, 4:39 PM), http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2016/06/the_supreme_court_needs_to_settle_birthright_citizenship.html [https://perma.cc/BTY2-ZFRD] (“There is nothing new in the government’s feeble justification for depriving American Samoans citizenship — just old, racist arguments reframed in the modern language of the law. The Supreme Court should hear this case and grant American Samoans the citizenship rights guaranteed to them by the U.S. Constitution. Anything less would be a betrayal of the American constitutional project.”); see also Andrew Petrey, Case Comment, Constitutional Confines: Determining the Applicability of the Citizenship Clause to American Samoa: Tuaua v. United States, No. 12-01143, 2013 U.S. Dist. Lexis 89602 (D.D.C. June 26, 2013), 25 Fla. J. Int’l L. 483 (2013) (situating the D.D.C.’s Tuaua opinion in historical context and analyzing its likely effects). — perhaps because of the continually vexed status of the Insular Cases,39×39. See, e.g., Martha Minow, Preface to Reconsidering the Insular Cases, supra note 2, at vii, vii (“When the Supreme Court reached its judgments in the Insular Cases, prevailing governmental attitudes presumed white supremacy and approved of stigmatizing segregation.”); Juan R. Torruella, The Insular Cases: The Establishment of a Regime of Political Apartheid, 29 U. Pa. J. Int’l L. 283, 286 (2007) (“[T]he Insular Cases were wrongly decided because, at the time of their ruling, they squarely contradicted long-standing constitutional precedent. Their skewed outcome was strongly influenced by racially motivated biases and by colonial governance theories that were contrary to American territorial practice and experience. . . . [T]he dogma of the Insular Cases constitutes an outmoded anachronism when viewed within the framework of present-day constitutional principles . . . .” (footnotes omitted)). and perhaps in part because of the conservative panel which decided the case.40×40. See Feldman, supra note 38 (noting the D.C. Circuit’s resolution of the case via “a randomly drawn panel of three stalwart conservative judges — Janice Rogers Brown, David Sentelle and Laurence Silberman”). Yet the political valence of the question presented in Tuaua is not as clear as it might seem. In fact, representatives of the government of American Samoa itself opposed the argument of the individual petitioners in the case, out of fears “that the extension of United States citizenship to the territory could potentially undermine . . . aspects of the Samoan way of life.”41×41. Tuaua, 788 F.3d at 310. To wit: “the extension of citizenship could result in greater scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, imperiling American Samoa’s traditional, racially-based land alienation rules.”42×42. Id.; see also, e.g., Stanley K. Laughlin, Jr., U.S. Territories and Affiliated Jurisdictions: Colonialism or Reasonable Choice for Small Societies?, 37 Ohio N.U. L. Rev. 429, 440 (2011) (“[T]o use the equal protection principle to strike down territorial laws that restrict land ownership to indigenous people would ‘work’ as land would be sold to outsiders, but it could have disastrous consequences for a culture based on family land ownership.”).
Tuaua suggests a fundamental conflict between our commitments to local self-determination and to individual rights.43×43. This conflict is also visible in the treatment of American Indian tribes, see generally Zachary S. Price, Dividing Sovereignty in Tribal and Territorial Criminal Jurisdiction, 113 Colum. L. Rev. 657 (2013); Angela R. Riley, (Tribal) Sovereignty and Illiberalism, 95 Calif. L. Rev. 799 (2007) (“[L]iberalism must navigate the sometimes treacherous course between upholding individual rights and accommodating a diverse array of cultures and organizations.” Id. at 800.), and of indigenous groups elsewhere in U.S. law, see, e.g., Christopher W. Schmidt, Recent Development, Doe v. Kamehameha: Section 1981 and the Future of Racial Preferences in Private Schools, 42 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. 557, 567 (2007) (contemplating “the hardest questions about law and social relations” in the context of Native Hawaiians). The controversial history of the Insular Cases makes it tempting to seek an easy villain44×44. See, e.g., Stern, supra note 38 (describing the D.C. Circuit’s decision as “rooted in an overtly racist series of cases” and displaying a “faux-reverence” for American Samoa’s cultural traditions). and declare the Samoan anomaly of noncitizen national status an unconstitutional anachronism. But the truth is more complicated.
In the end, the Supreme Court denied certiorari in Tuaua,45×45. Tuaua v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2461 (2016) (mem.). despite a flurry of national attention that led to eight amicus brief filings46×46. See Tuaua v. United States, SCOTUSblog, http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/tuaua-v-united-states [https://perma.cc/67XC-5RU2]. and the drafting of a petition by former Solicitor General Ted Olson.47×47. See Tuaua Plaintiffs to Seek Supreme Court Review, We the People Project (Dec. 14, 2015), http://www.equalrightsnow.org/tuaua_plaintiffs_to_seek_supreme_court_review [https://perma.cc/RW6W-MQ7N]. Nevertheless, as recurrent cases across circuits involving the Philippines demonstrate, the issue is a live one.
The sections below lay out the constitutional arguments in Tuaua and related cases, explain the difficulties leading to the necessity of political judgments under the Insular Cases framework, and situate the case law within a broader, ongoing, and historically shifting debate on the extension of constitutional rights (and requirements) to indigenous communities within the “United States” as broadly defined.
Most significantly, Tuaua reflects the contemporary triumph of a once-controversial academic take on the Insular Cases. Where the doctrine once served colonial interests in an era of mainland domination of the territories, a revisionist argument would see it repurposed today to protect indigenous cultures from a procrustean application of the federal Constitution. The journey of this controversial theory from the academy in the 1980s to the D.C. Circuit’s unanimous panel in 2015 tells a compelling story of shifting ideology in a complicated doctrinal area.
Approximately 54,000 American “nationals” live in American Samoa, a portion of a South Pacific archipelago approximately midway between Hawaii and New Zealand.48×48. CIA, Australia-Oceania: American Samoa, The World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/aq.html [https://perma.cc/5KBY-E8T3]. The United States first claimed the territory in a 1900 treaty with Great Britain and Germany49×49. Tuaua v. United States, 951 F. Supp. 2d 88, 90 (D.D.C. 2013), aff’d, 788 F.3d 300 (D.C. Cir. 2015). and the Samoan government formally recognized U.S. sovereignty over the islands in 1900 and 1904.50×50. Id. This “outlying possession”51×51. Id. at 91. of the United States was then administered by the Navy for four-and-a-half decades and by the Secretary of the Interior since 1951.52×52. Id. at 90. The territory has its own constitution, approved by the Secretary, providing for a government of three branches.53×53. Id. Its residents have served in the U.S. military since 1900, including in Iraq and Afghanistan54×54. Id. — in fact, the territory “boasts the highest rate of military enlistment of any U.S. state or territory”55×55. Stern, supra note 38. — and, under a 1978 federal law, they elect a nonvoting delegate to the United States House of Representatives.56×56. Tuaua, 951 F. Supp. 2d at 90.
Despite those familial bonds to the United States, however, there is one thing that someone born in American Samoa does not share with a counterpart in Massachusetts, Puerto Rico, or Washington, D.C.: birthright citizenship.57×57. Id. at 91. Today, Americans born in a state enjoy birthright citizenship by dint of the Constitution;58×58. U.S Const. amend. XIV, § 1. those born in territories other than American Samoa receive it only by statute.59×59. See supra note 30. This issue came to the fore in a recent and illuminating court case.
1. D.D.C. — In an apparent case of first impression in 2012, five American Samoan noncitizen nationals, together with a nonprofit organization serving the Samoan community, brought suit in the District Court for the District of Columbia.60×60. Tuaua, 951 F. Supp. 2d at 89–90; Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, Tuaua, 951 F. Supp. 2d 88 (No. 12-1143). They asserted that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Citizenship Clause rendered unconstitutional the provisions of the INA denying them citizenship along with the State Department policy and practice implementing the law.61×61. Tuaua, 951 F. Supp. 2d at 90. The plaintiffs also challenged the State Department regulations as invalid under the Administrative Procedure Act, but the court did not reach this argument except on the jurisdictional question. Id. at 92. The plaintiffs, some of whom had led “long careers in the military or law enforcement,” alleged a variety of harms flowing from the denial of citizenship, including the inability to vote and ineligibility for certain varieties of employment, for federal work-study programs in college, for firearm permits, and for foreign travel and immigration visas.62×62. Id. at 91. They sought injunctive and declaratory relief against the United States and related parties as defendants.63×63. Id. at 90.
But American Samoa’s delegate in Congress, Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, filed an amicus brief opposing the plaintiffs.64×64. Id. at 90 n.3. He resisted the plaintiffs’ quest for judicial recognition of a constitutional entitlement to birthright citizenship because he saw tension between such status and the existing arrangement’s protection of “the traditional Samoan way of life — fa’a Samoa.”65×65. Reply of the Honorable Eni F.H. Faleomavaega as Amicus Curiae in Support of Defendants at 1, Tuaua, 951 F. Supp. 2d 88 (No. 12-1143). In particular, he stressed the Samoan people’s rejection of attempts to change the present political association.66×66. Id. at 5.
The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim.67×67. Tuaua, 951 F. Supp. 2d at 90. In the district court, Judge Leon found jurisdiction but granted the motion to dismiss on the latter ground.68×68. Id. at 90, 92. He noted the parties’ agreement that American Samoa was “subject to the jurisdiction”69×69. U.S Const. amend. XIV, § 1. of the United States, as the Citizenship Clause required, but agreed with the defendants that the territory nonetheless failed to qualify for the clause’s application because it did not meet the clause’s separate requirement that it also be part of “the United States.”70×70. Tuaua, 951 F. Supp. 2d at 94 (quoting U.S Const. amend. XIV, § 1). The court did not expressly find that language ambiguous, but it did invoke the presumption of a federal statute’s validity unless its unconstitutionality could be “clearly shown.”71×71. Id. at 94 n.8.
The district court first cited to dicta in Downes v. Bidwell72×72. 182 U.S. 244 (1901). — one of the most prominent Insular Cases — for the proposition that the Citizenship Clause did not extend to unincorporated territories (meaning those not “expressly made part of the United States by an act of Congress,” and “not on a path toward statehood”).73×73. Tuaua, 951 F. Supp. 2d at 94. In one of the opinions in that fractured decision, Justice Henry Billings Brown74×74. Justice Brown is infamous in our time as the author of the majority opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896). saw fit to “suggest, without intending to decide, that there may be a distinction between certain natural rights, enforced in the Constitution by prohibitions against interference with them, and what may be termed artificial or remedial rights, which are peculiar to our own system of jurisprudence.”75×75. Downes, 182 U.S. at 282. Notably, Justice Brown went on to add that “rights to citizenship” belong to the “latter class” of nonfundamental rights.76×76. Id. at 283. Likewise, Justice Edward Douglass White, concurring with two Justices joining him, expressed doubt that territorial acquisition necessarily demanded the extension of birthright citizenship under the Constitution.77×77. Id. at 306 (White, J., concurring).
Judge Leon conceded that the divided decision in Downes did not offer binding precedent on the question of territorial incorporation of the Citizenship Clause.78×78. Tuaua, 951 F. Supp. 2d at 95. But he noted recent support for the negative answer suggested in Downes.79×79. Id. at 95–96. In particular, Boumediene reinforced the continued vitality of the Insular Cases framework, denying the automatic extension of constitutional protections to unincorporated territories.80×80. Id. at 96 (citing Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723, 757–59 (2008)). Judge Leon noted but dismissed certain parts of the Boumediene opinion that suggested that the modern Court took a slightly less sanguine view of these precedents, and might be inclined to narrow them. Id. The Boumediene Court did, for instance, grant the possibility “that over time the ties between the United States and any of its unincorporated Territories strengthen in ways that are of constitutional significance,” 553 U.S. at 758, quoting Justice Brennan’s statement in Torres v. Puerto Rico, 442 U.S. 465 (1979), that “[w]hatever the validity of the [Insular Cases] in the particular historical context in which they were decided, those cases are clearly not authority for questioning the application of the Fourth Amendment — or any other provision of the Bill of Rights — to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in the 1970’s,” id. at 475–76 (Brennan, J., concurring in the judgment). But the district court declined to take that “vague statement crafted in a vastly different context” — the Guantanamo cases — as “license” for “this Court to turn its back on the more direct and more persuasive precedent and the legal framework that has predominated over the unincorporated territories for more than a century.” Tuaua, 951 F. Supp. 2d at 96.
More fundamentally, however, in a century of case law since the Insular Cases, “no federal court ha[d] recognized birthright citizenship as a guarantee in unincorporated territories.”81×81. Tuaua, 951 F. Supp. 2d at 95. In the last twenty years alone, the D.D.C. and the Second, Third, Fifth, and Ninth Circuits specifically denied the Tuaua plaintiffs’ argument as applied to the Philippines when it was a territory — and often relied directly on Downes in so doing.82×82. Id. at 96 (citing Nolos v. Holder, 611 F.3d 279 (5th Cir. 2010); Lacap v. INS, 138 F.3d 518 (3d Cir. 1998); Valmonte v. INS, 136 F.3d 914 (2d Cir. 1998); Rabang v. INS, 35 F.3d 1449 (9th Cir. 1994); Licudine v. Winter, 603 F. Supp. 2d 129 (D.D.C. 2009)). Judge Leon also noted but denied the relevance of the D.C. Circuit’s refusal to address the question of Philippine birthright citizenship in its “brief, per curiam opinion” in Mendoza v. Social Security Commissioner, 92 F. App’x 3, 3 (D.C. Cir. 2004). Tuaua, 951 F. Supp. 2d at 98 n.15. The D.C. Circuit’s omission indicated only that “the issue was simply unnecessary to the disposition of the case” — not that “it was necessarily ‘an open question.’” Id. Likewise, in Eche v. Holder,83×83. 694 F.3d 1026 (9th Cir. 2012). the Ninth Circuit relied on the same logic and the same precedent to hold that “the United States” in Article I’s Naturalization Clause did not extend to the unincorporated territory of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).84×84. Id. at 1027; see also id. at 1031 (“Like the constitutional clauses at issue in Rabang and Downes, the Naturalization Clause is expressly limited to the ‘United States.’ This limitation ‘prevents its extension to every place over which the government exercises its sovereignty.’ Because the Naturalization Clause did not follow the flag to the CNMI when Congress approved the Covenant, the Clause does not require us to apply federal immigration law to the CNMI prior to the CNRA’s transition date.” (internal citation omitted) (quoting Rabang, 35 F.3d at 1453)). The Tuaua plaintiffs’ only proposed principle to distinguish those adverse precedents — the fact “that the Philippines, unlike American Samoa, was a territory only ‘temporarily’” — was not a distinction which any of those courts had cited as dispositive or relevant, and did not apply at all to the CNMI decision.85×85. Tuaua, 951 F. Supp. 2d at 96–97. Judge Leon also dismissed the plaintiffs’ argument that the legislative history leading up to the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment supported an expansive interpretation of the Citizenship Clause, finding their evidence either unpersuasive or unclear. Id. at 97 n.14.
Finally, the district court bolstered its constitutional theory by reference to the historical gloss of America’s experience with territorial citizenship in the twentieth century.86×86. Id. at 98. Since the time of the Insular Cases, Congress had seen fit to confer U.S. citizenship by statute on the residents of the unincorporated territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the CNMI — in all cases, “many years after the United States acquired [the territories].”87×87. Id. But such legislation would have been superfluous if the Fourteenth Amendment already conferred birthright citizenship on those U.S. nationals as a matter of constitutional right.88×88. Id. Although “longstanding practice is not sufficient to demonstrate constitutionality,” the court observed that “such a practice requires special scrutiny before being set aside.”89×89. Id. (citing Jackman v. Rosenbaum Co., 260 U.S. 22, 31 (1922) (Holmes, J.) (“If a thing has been practised for two hundred years by common consent, it will need a strong case for the Fourteenth Amendment to affect it . . . .”); Walz v. Tax Comm’n, 397 U.S. 664, 678 (1970) (“It is obviously correct that no one acquires a vested or protected right in violation of the Constitution by long use . . . . Yet an unbroken practice . . . is not something to be lightly cast aside.”)); cf. Curtis A. Bradley & Trevor W. Morrison, Historical Gloss and the Separation of Powers, 126 Harv. L. Rev. 411 (2012).
For all those reasons, secure in its constitutional conclusion, the district court found it unnecessary to “address the Amicus’s [Delegate Faleomavaega’s] arguments about the potentially deleterious effects of mandating birthright citizenship on American Samoa’s traditional culture.”90×90. Tuaua, 951 F. Supp. 2d at 98 n.16. But the court’s generous citation to that amicus brief91×91. Id. suggests, perhaps, that such arguments played an important role in framing the issue for Judge Leon — as they would for the D.C. Circuit.
2. D.C. Circuit. — A unanimous panel of the D.C. Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision in Tuaua.92×92. Tuaua v. United States, 788 F.3d 300, 302 (D.C. Cir. 2015). Writing for the court in reviewing Judge Leon’s dismissal de novo, Judge Brown93×93. Judge Brown was joined by Senior Judges Silberman and Sentelle. reached much the same result on the basis of a subtly different chain of reasoning.94×94. Tuaua, 788 F.3d at 302. In some ways, her opinion showed greater sympathy for the plaintiffs’ “individual plights, apparently more freighted with duty and sacrifice than benefits and privilege.”95×95. Id. at 301–02. But those interests were outweighed in the end by a competing interest: that of the American Samoan people in their own collective self-governance. The court was not persuaded to overcome its reluctance “to impose citizenship by judicial fiat — where doing so requires us to override the democratic prerogatives of the American Samoan people themselves.”96×96. Id. at 302.
Unlike the court below, the D.C. Circuit expressly found the Citizenship Clause “textually ambiguous as to whether ‘in the United States’ encompasses America’s unincorporated territories.”97×97. Id. Judge Brown canvassed arguments on both sides of the question from the vantage points of text, legislative history, constitutional structure, and common law tradition.98×98. Id. at 303–04.
On the one hand, the plaintiffs urged a broad reading of the Citizenship Clause and its “use of the overarching term ‘in the United States,’” in comparison with the Fourteenth Amendment’s neighboring Apportionment Clause, which “speaks narrowly in terms of apportionment of representatives ‘among the several States.’”99×99. Id. at 303 (quoting U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1). Conversely, as the defendants claimed — and as Justice Brown suggested in Downes100×100. 182 U.S. 244, 251 (1901). — a comparison of the Fourteenth Amendment with the Thirteenth arguably militated in favor of a narrow reading.101×101. Tuaua, 788 F.3d at 303. Judge Leon, in the decision below, also noted this textual argument, though without much comment beyond a general expression of deference to the Supreme Court’s apparently long-held view. See Tuaua v. United States, 951 F. Supp. 2d 88, 95 (D.D.C. 2013). The Thirteenth Amendment proscribes slavery “within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction,”102×102. Tuaua, 788 F.3d at 303 (emphasis omitted) (citation omitted) (quoting U.S. Const. amend. XIII, § 1 (emphasis added)). whereas the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies to persons “born . . . in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.”103×103. Id. (citation omitted) (quoting U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1 (emphasis added)). Conceivably, then, “the Thirteenth Amendment’s phraseology contemplates areas ‘not a part of the Union, [which] [a]re still subject to the jurisdiction of the United States,’ while the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates a ‘limitation to persons born or naturalized in the United States which is not extended to persons born in any place “subject to their jurisdiction.”’”104×104. Id. (first and second alterations in original) (quoting Downes, 182 U.S. at 251).
Judge Brown found neither textual argument “fully persuasive” or “sufficient to divine the Citizenship Clause’s geographic scope.”105×105. Id. Both textual comparisons had some merit but remained “incomplete”106×106. Id. because they produced, at most, a vague inference as to how broadly or narrowly the clause should be read. Nor was the court impressed by the plaintiffs’ attempt to “rely on scattered statements from the legislative history to bolster their textual argument.”107×107. Id. at 304. Some of these statements, to be sure, suggested a broad reading of the clause.108×108. For instance, Senator Trumbull was recorded as stating that “[the Citizenship Clause] refers to persons everywhere, whether in the States or in the Territories or in the District of Columbia.” Cong. Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess. 2894 (1866). But in addition to voicing a general skepticism as to the utility of such “[i]solated statements” in constitutional or statutory interpretation,109×109. Tuaua, 788 F.3d at 304 (quoting Garcia v. United States, 469 U.S. 70, 78 (1984) (alteration in original)). Judge Brown noted the Supreme Court’s longstanding warnings against the perils of such an enterprise in this area in particular, where “the legislative history of the Fourteenth Amendment . . . contains many statements from which conflicting inferences can be drawn.”110×110. Id. (quoting Afroyim v. Rusk, 387 U.S. 253, 267 (1967)).
The court gave greater attention to, but also ultimately rejected, plaintiffs’ attempts to interpret the clause and the relevant precedents “in light of the common law tradition of jus soli.”111×111. Id. This doctrine of “‘the right of the soil’” was an “inheritance from the English common law” under which birthright citizenship broadly “extended beyond the British Isles to include, for example, persons born in the American colonies.”112×112. Id. (citing Inglis v. Trs. of the Sailor’s Snug Harbor, 28 U.S. (3 Pet.) 99, 120–21 (1830)). The plaintiffs argued that the 1898 case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark113×113. 169 U.S. 649 (1898). constitutionally codified that common law rule with regard to “outlying territories” such as American Samoa.114×114. Tuaua, 788 F.3d at 304. This was the case primarily relied upon by academic critics of the D.C. Circuit’s decision, see, e.g., Feldman, supra note 38 (“There’s a Supreme Court precedent from 1898 that explains the meaning of [the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment] . . . . Remarkably, the D.C. Circuit didn’t apply this precedent to the Samoans’ case.”). As the D.C. Circuit noted, however, its distinguishing of this precedent accords with the conclusions of the Ninth and Fifth Circuits on the same question in the Philippine context. Tuaua, 788 F.3d at 304–05 (citing Rabang v. INS, 35 F.3d 1449, 1454 (9th Cir. 1994); Nolos v. Holder, 611 F.3d 279, 284 (5th Cir. 2010)). But the court distinguished that case, which undisputedly involved a California-born person and thus offered no binding precedent on the territorial reach of the Citizenship Clause beyond the states.115×115. Tuaua, 788 F.3d at 304–05. Wong Kim Ark itself lent arguable support to that reading with its emphasis of the interpretive maxim that “general expressions, in every opinion, are to be taken in connection with the case in which those expressions are used. If they go beyond the case, they may be respected, but ought not to control the judgment in a subsequent suit when the very point is presented for decision.”116×116. 169 U.S. at 679 (quoting Cohens v. Virginia, 19 U.S. (6 Wheat.) 264, 399 (1821)).
Moreover, the D.C. Circuit was unconvinced of the jus soli argument on the merits, because that doctrine also incorporated “a requirement of allegiance to the sovereign” that would not necessarily extend to politically distinct entities like American Samoa.117×117. Tuaua, 788 F.3d at 305. Judge Brown again cited Downes to support her skepticism of the view that the Fourteenth Amendment’s framers “intended to extend birthright citizenship to distinct, significantly self-governing political territories within the United States’ sphere of sovereignty.”118×118. Id. at 306 (citing Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244, 305 (1901) (White, J., concurring)). On similar grounds, as the D.C. Circuit noted,119×119. Id. at 305–06. the Supreme Court long ago rejected the constitutional argument for Native American birthright citizenship in Elk v. Wilkins.120×120. 112 U.S. 94, 99 (1884); accord id. at 119 (Harlan, J., dissenting). In that case even the first Justice Harlan, dissenting, came down against a broad interpretation of the Citizenship Clause to extend to distinct political entities under the United States government:
They are ‘subject to the jurisdiction’ of the United States only in a much qualified sense; and it would be obviously inconsistent with the semi-independent character of such a tribe, and with the obedience they are expected to render to their tribal head, that they should be vested with the complete rights, or, on the other hand, subjected to the full responsibilities of American citizens. It would not, for a moment, be contended that such was the effect of [the Fourteenth A]mendment.121×121. Id. at 119–20 (Harlan, J., dissenting) (emphasis added).
In the Native American context, Elk was never overruled as a constitutional matter and U.S. birthright citizenship was conveyed only by statute.122×122. See Daniel McCool et al., Native Vote 6–7 (2007); see also Indian Citizenship Act, Pub. L. No. 68-175, 43 Stat. 253 (1924) (codified as amended at 8 U.S.C. § 1401(b) (2012)). For American Samoa, likewise, the D.C. Circuit found the jus soli argument for constitutional citizenship unavailing.123×123. Tuaua, 788 F.3d at 306.
Finally, Judge Brown embraced the Insular Cases framework to resolve the textual ambiguity in the case at bar.124×124. Id. She acknowledged the modern argument that these precedents’ “territorial incorporation doctrine should not be expanded to the Citizenship Clause because the doctrine rests on anachronistic views of race and imperialism.”125×125. Id. at 307. Nonetheless, she noted the Supreme Court’s continued reliance on the cases’ analytical framework, if not their underlying worldview, and found that “[a]lthough some aspects of the Insular Cases’ analysis may now be deemed politically incorrect, the framework remains both applicable and of pragmatic use in assessing the applicability of rights to unincorporated territories.”126×126. Id.
Under that framework, as Judge Brown described, “‘fundamental limitations in favor of personal rights’ remain guaranteed to persons born in the unincorporated territories,” but other, lesser guarantees do not necessarily transfer as a matter of course.127×127. Id. (quoting Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723, 758 (2008)). The Supreme Court has recognized structural and prudential limitations on the full territorial incorporation of the Constitution, and hence “‘devised in the Insular Cases a doctrine that allowed it to use its power sparingly and where it would be most needed’ in recognition of the ‘inherent practical difficulties of enforcing all constitutional provisions always and everywhere.’”128×128. Id. (quoting Boumediene, 553 U.S. at 759 (internal quotation marks omitted)). Accordingly, “the determination of what particular provision of the Constitution is applicable, generally speaking, in all cases, involves an inquiry into the situation of the territory and its relations to the United States.”129×129. Id. (quoting Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244, 293 (1901) (White, J., concurring)).
First, then, the D.C. Circuit denied the argument that citizenship constitutes a “fundamental” right automatically applied with respect to citizens of the territories.130×130. Id. at 307–08. In this doctrinal context, “‘[f]undamental’ has a distinct and narrow meaning” separate from its usage in, for instance, substantive due process cases.131×131. Id. at 308; see also Wabol v. Villacrusis, 958 F.2d 1450, 1460 (9th Cir. 1990). Rather, “[u]nder the Insular framework the designation of fundamental extends only to the narrow category of rights and ‘principles which are the basis of all free government.’”132×132. Tuaua, 788 F.3d at 308 (quoting Dorr v. United States, 195 U.S. 138, 147 (1904) (emphasis added)). The D.C. Circuit thus distinguished as inapposite a “bevy of cases,” outside the territorial context, characterizing the right of citizenship as fundamental for other purposes.133×133. Id. at 307 (citing Afroyim v. Rusk, 387 U.S. 253 (1967); Schneider v. Rusk, 377 U.S. 163 (1964); Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez, 372 U.S. 144 (1963); Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86 (1958)). While American birthright citizenship is indeed “one of the most valuable rights in the world today,” it does not qualify as “fundamental” under the strictures of the Insular definition.134×134. Id. (quoting Mendoza-Martinez, 372 U.S. at 160). Rather, “numerous free and democratic societies” primarily determine birthright citizenship by the “nationality of a child’s parents.”135×135. Id. at 308. Accordingly, the court concluded, birthright territorial citizenship counted among “those artificial, procedural, or remedial rights that — justly revered though they may be — are nonetheless idiosyncratic to the American social compact or to the Anglo-American tradition of jurisprudence,” and so are not “fundamental.”136×136. Id. The court did, however, reserve the question of “whether constitutional impropriety would arise if persons born in an unincorporated territory were also denied national status,” in addition to citizenship. Id. at 309 n.9.
Second, for good measure, Judge Brown applied Justice Harlan’s functional gloss on the Insular Cases framework, undertaking a fact-intensive analysis as to “which guarantees of the Constitution should apply in view of the particular circumstances, the practical necessities, and the possible alternatives.”137×137. Id. at 309 (quoting Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1, 75 (1957) (Harlan, J., concurring in the result) (emphasis omitted)). “In sum,” she concluded, the court’s task was to “ask whether the circumstances are such that recognition of the right to birthright citizenship would prove ‘impracticable and anomalous,’ as applied to contemporary American Samoa.”138×138. Id. (quoting Reid, 354 U.S. at 74 (Harlan, J., concurring in the result)).
The D.C. Circuit had little trouble deciding that the constitutional imposition of such citizenship would indeed be “anomalous” in this context.139×139. Id. at 310. At this stage in the litigation, the American Samoan government itself joined with Delegate Faleomavaega to file an amicus brief in support of the U.S. government (and against the plaintiffs).140×140. Brief for Intervenors or, in the Alternative, Amici Curiae the American Samoa Government and Congressman Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, Tuaua, 788 F.3d 300 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (No. 13-5272). As in the Delegate’s argument before the court below, these amici stressed the incompatibility of Citizenship Clause incorporation with “many aspects of the fa’a Samoa — the Samoan way of life.”141×141. Id. at 1. Besides potential conflicts with specific aspects of the American Samoan legal system, the principles of democracy and popular sovereignty raised a more fundamental barrier, because “[d]espite American Samoa’s lengthy relationship with the United States, the American Samoan people have not formed a collective consensus in favor of United States citizenship.”142×142. Tuaua, 788 F.3d at 309.
The D.C. Circuit accordingly declined the plaintiffs’ invitation to embark upon “the forcible imposition of citizenship against the majoritarian will.”143×143. Id. at 311. Though the court did not cite Hawaii v. Mankichi, 190 U.S. 197 (1903), that Insular Case potentially offers another rationale for declining to extend birthright citizenship to unincorporated territories under the doctrinal framework. As Judge Torruella has pointed out, Mankichi itself made “the granting of citizenship . . . the determinative factor in deciding whether a territory had been incorporated into the United States.” Torruella, supra note 39, at 314 (second emphasis added). The reliance on that criterion at an earlier stage in the Insular Cases framework — which Judge Torruella characterizes as making “logical sense” in line “with our national history as demonstrated by the practice that had been uninterruptedly followed since the days of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 upon the acquisition of new territories,” id. — would seem to complicate the extension of that right to unincorporated territories as well. Indeed, Judge Brown concluded, to rule for the Tuaua plaintiffs “would be to mandate an irregular intrusion into the autonomy of Samoan democratic decision-making; an exercise of paternalism — if not overt cultural imperialism — offensive to the shared democratic traditions of the United States and modern American Samoa.”144×144. Tuaua, 788 F.3d at 312.
Tuaua frames the Insular Cases as a means to resolve conflicts between competing values. These cases are hard, in Judge Brown’s conception, because they put in tension two conflicting and largely shared ideals: first, our commitment to individual rights and to the Constitution as a universal bulwark against majoritarian oppression; and second, our belief in collective self-governance and the freedom of local authorities — in particular, those of discrete and insular ethnic or religious minorities — to structure their own affairs. The parties in Tuaua highlight this point well: the plaintiffs are largely Samoan-born individuals seeking opportunities outside the territory, while the defendants and their amici take a greater concern with the effect of the lawsuit on American Samoa’s internal affairs, culture, and self-governance.
This attempt at reframing (or redeeming) the Insular Cases raises at least two questions. First, doctrinally, does it fit? Is the Insular Cases framework necessary or sufficient to serve the purpose of reconciling individual rights with cultural autonomy?
Second, normatively, is it desirable to prioritize cultural preservation over individual rights in this way? Cultural pluralism was assuredly not a value of those who penned the Insular Cases in the first place.145×145. See, e.g., Adriel I. Cepeda Derieux, Note, A Most Insular Minority: Reconsidering Judicial Deference to Unequal Treatment in Light of Puerto Rico’s Political Process Failure, 110 Colum. L. Rev. 797, 809–10 (2010). Justice White, in Downes, justified the restriction of constitutional rights by reference to the “grave detriment on the United States” that might result from “the immediate bestowal of citizenship on those absolutely unfit to receive it” — those of an “uncivilized race.”146×146. Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244, 306 (1901) (White, J., concurring). And even if revisionists can overcome these illiberal origins, there are strong norms of liberty and equality weighing on the other side of the cultural-preservation calculus.
1. How We Got Here: Do We Need the Insular Cases? — Tuaua highlights certain aspects of Samoan culture, such as race-based land laws, that are ostensibly at odds with the full application of the U.S. Constitution. This tension has long been observed both within and outside of American Samoa. A Senate report attending the ratification of the territory’s 1960 constitution, for instance, observed that “[i]t is highly probable that a majority of the American Samoans desire citizenship, yet many are gravely troubled as to whether the ‘equal protection of laws’ doctrine implicit in citizenship would not conflict with the ‘Samoan land for Samoans’ doctrine.”147×147. S. Comm. on Interior and Insular Affairs, 86th Cong., Study Mission to Eastern [American] Samoa 9 (Comm. Print 1961) (Sens. Oren E. Long & Ernest Gruening). In that conflict, a revised form of the Insular Cases arguably has a salutary, mediating role to play.
But if the Constitution were sufficiently ecumenical to allow for cultural preservation even where it applies with full force, then the revisionist project would start to look unnecessary or even pernicious. With regard to Tuaua, for example, is it true that the extension of constitutional birthright citizenship would necessitate the further application of the Equal Protection Clause? And if so, would the Samoan laws in question necessarily fail to survive judicial review?
Certain strands of case law lend support to both sides on this question. On the one hand, the results in some cases may suggest that the D.C. Circuit’s concerns about side effects of imposing citizenship on American Samoa may be misplaced or overblown.148×148. See Rogers M. Smith, The Insular Cases, Differentiated Citizenship, and Territorial Statuses in the Twenty-First Century, in Reconsidering the Insular Cases, supra note 2, at 103, 124 (“The rulings [in Wabol v. Villacrusis, 958 F.2d 1450 (9th Cir. 1990), on the one hand and American Samoa cases on the other] suggest that . . . US courts and government officials have little difficulty sustaining differential customary rights for territorial residents, whether they are deemed US nationals or citizens, against constitutional challenges. Perhaps this situation might be altered if territorial residents were judged to be Fourteenth Amendment birthright citizens, not citizens granted that status by Congress. It is not evident, however, why treating their citizenship as constitutionally based would raise the bar against accommodationist policies.”). In 1990, the Ninth Circuit upheld the validity of race-based land alienation laws in the CNMI against an equal protection challenge in Wabol v. Villacrusis.149×149. 958 F.2d 1450 (9th Cir. 1990); id. at 1451–52. The specific legal issues in the case are in some ways sui generis, owing to the unique legal process by which the Northern Marianas became associated with the United States following the Second World War.150×150. See, e.g., id. at 1458–59; Northern Mariana Islands v. Atalig, 723 F.2d 682, 684–85 (9th Cir. 1984); Jeffrey B. Teichert, Resisting Temptation in the Garden of Paradise: Preserving the Role of Samoan Custom in the Law of American Samoa, Gonz. J. Int’l L., 1999–2000, at 35, 43–46. But the fundamental issues are the same as those confronted in Tuaua: the search for “a delicate balance between local diversity and constitutional command.”151×151. Wabol, 958 F.2d at 1461. Interestingly, the agreement by which Samoa came under American jurisdiction was arguably a more consensual arrangement than the acquisition of most of the U.S. territories, potentially making Tuaua still more parallel to Wabol. See Smith, supra note 148, at 111.
The Wabol court ultimately held that the Equal Protection Clause did not threaten the race-based property laws of the CNMI, despite the U.S. citizenship of its residents.152×152. See Wabol, 958 F.2d at 1462. Because “land in the Commonwealth is a scarce and precious resource,” and because “native ownership of land” played a “vital role . . . in the preservation of [C]NMI social and cultural stability,” the Ninth Circuit pronounced it “impractical and anomalous” to impose the equal protection guarantee and declined to do so.153×153. Id. at 1461. “The Bill of Rights,” Judge Poole wrote for the court, was never “intended to operate as a genocide pact for diverse native cultures. Its bold purpose was to protect minority rights, not to enforce homogeneity.”154×154. Id. at 1462 (citation omitted). Those same considerations — the scarcity of land and hence its importance to the preservation of the local culture — apply equally in American Samoa.155×155. See, e.g., Craddick v. Territorial Registrar, 1 Am. Samoa 2d 10, 12–13 (1980) (“[L]and holds a central and vital place in Samoan culture. . . . The critical need to protect this land and to preserve it for the Samoan people is codified in the Samoan Constitution itself.”); Haleck v. Lee, 4 Am. Samoa 519, 550 (1964) (“[T]he most valuable tangible thing that the Samoan people possess is the land, and . . . the average Samoan needs statutory protection regarding alienation of land if he is not to lose it forever.”).
Wabol’s result, and the authorities on which it relied, arguably undermine the force of the Tuaua court’s reasoning. In one of the cases Wabol cited, King v. Morton,156×156. 520 F.2d 1140 (D.C. Cir. 1975). the D.C. Circuit established a framework under which rights as apparently fundamental as trial by jury might be “impractical and anomalous” and thus not applicable in American Samoa in light of local customs.157×157. Id. at 1148; see also Comment, Some Observations on the Judiciary in American Samoa, 18 UCLA L. Rev. 581 (1971) (exploring “the way in which the United States inspired and dominated judicial branch of the Government of American Samoa interacts with the traditional order,” id. at 582). And in a 1981 article that the Ninth Circuit also cited, Professor Stanley Laughlin argues for “an interpretation of the Constitution that guarantees all citizens the essence of constitutional blessings while fulfilling the American promise to territorial residents that they could affiliate with the United States and still preserve their lands and culture.”158×158. Stanley K. Laughlin, Jr., The Application of the Constitution in United States Territories: American Samoa, A Case Study, 2 U. Haw. L. Rev. 337, 342 (1981); see also, e.g., David M. Forman, The Hawaiian Usage Exception to the Common Law: An Inoculation Against the Effects of Western Influence, 30 U. Haw. L. Rev. 319, 328 (2008) (examining another doctrinal attempt to reconcile the protection of “cultural values and resources” with the application of the Constitution equally to all citizens). Perhaps most intriguingly, in Torres v. Sablan,159×159. 528 U.S. 1110 (2000) (mem.). the Supreme Court issued a summary affirmance of the District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands’ similar holding that “one person, one vote” was not a fundamental right guaranteed under the Equal Protection Clause, even to citizens, in unincorporated territories.160×160. See Rayphand v. Sablan, 95 F. Supp. 2d 1133, 1140 (D. N. Mar. I. 1999).
Taking a different legal route to a similar result, American Samoa’s own high court held in Craddick v. Territorial Registrar161×161. 1 Am. Samoa 2d 10 (1980). that strict scrutiny did in fact apply to the territory’s racially restrictive land-alienation laws, but that the statutes survived such a Fourteenth Amendment challenge.162×162. Id. at 12; see also Banks v. American Samoa, 4 Am. Samoa 2d 113 (1987) (upholding racial employment preferences). By any of a number of doctrinal paths, then, it is possible that incorporation of the Citizenship Clause in American Samoa would not lead inexorably to the equal protection onslaught feared by the Tuaua amici and by Judge Brown.163×163. See supra notes 41–42, 139–144 and accompanying text.
But these authorities also show that such fears are not necessarily unfounded. While Wabol was decided by a unanimous panel, King and Craddick were both divided decisions with impassioned dissents.164×164. See Wabol v. Villacrusis, 958 F.2d 1450 (9th Cir. 1990); King v. Morton, 520 F.2d 1140, 1148–61 (D.C. Cir. 1975) (Tamm, J., dissenting) (finding the jury trial right “fundamental” and thus clearly applicable in American Samoa under the Insular Cases framework); Craddick, 1 Am. Samoa 2d at 14–17 (Murphy, J., dissenting) (noting the “serious constitutional questions” raised by the case, id. at 17, and doubting the government’s ability to show a compelling interest so as to survive the strict scrutiny as to a racial classification, id. at 16). And on remand in King, the district court ruled against the United States and the Samoan government, holding it unconstitutional for American Samoa to deny the plaintiff the right to a jury trial.165×165. See King v. Andrus, 452 F. Supp. 11, 17 (D.D.C. 1977). But cf. Northern Mariana Islands v. Atalig, 723 F.2d 682, 690 (9th Cir. 1984) (rejecting a Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment challenge to the CNMI’s restrictions on the jury trial right). Professor Rogers M. Smith has noted that Wabol featured a convergence between the interests of the territorial government, in accommodating its own culture, and the federal government, in preserving the power of Congress to differentiate among the territories.166×166. See Smith, supra note 148, at 105–06, 123–24. The result might be different in a case in which those local and federal interests are no longer aligned.
Most recently, in Rice v. Cayetano,167×167. 528 U.S. 495 (2000). the Supreme Court applied the Fifteenth Amendment to invalidate Hawaii’s racially based voting rules.168×168. Id. at 498–99; see also id. at 524 (“When the culture and way of life of a people are all but engulfed by a history beyond their control, their sense of loss may extend down through generations; and their dismay may be shared by many members of the larger community. As the State of Hawaii attempts to address these realities, it must, as always, seek the political consensus that begins with a sense of shared purpose. One of the necessary beginning points is this principle: The Constitution of the United States, too, has become the heritage of all the citizens of Hawaii.”). In so doing, the Court marked a retreat from, or at least a limitation of, the principle of Morton v. Mancari,169×169. 417 U.S. 535 (1974). which held — in a unanimous 1974 decision — that preference for indigenous groups in government hiring might not be unconstitutionally invidious race discrimination.170×170. See id. at 555 (preferencing Indians for employment in Bureau of Indian Affairs is “rationally designed to further Indian self-government”); Rice, 528 U.S. at 518–22. Given important differences between the states and the territories, Rice is not directly dispositive of any post-Tuaua question. But it offers a clear warning for those who think that the modern Court, like the Craddick judges, would allow facially discriminatory racial restrictions to survive strict scrutiny in the name of preservation of indigenous cultures.171×171. See, e.g., Sparrow, supra note 3, at 227–28 (describing how Rice “has cast doubt on parallels that might be drawn between indigenous citizens of the territories,” id. at 227, and native groups in incorporated states as far as their right to create “distinct forms of political authority,” id. at 228); Stanley K. Laughlin, Jr., Cultural Preservation in Pacific Islands: Still A Good Idea — and Constitutional, 27 U. Haw. L. Rev. 331, 345 (2005) (“While the [Rice] Court noted that it was dealing with the Fifteenth Amendment and not the Fourteenth, the decision, if anything, increased rather than decreased the concerns” of territorial residents “that moving toward statehood might jeopardize their ability to protect indigenous people.” (footnote omitted)). There may yet be force to the fears of Judge Brown, and the Tuaua amici, that constitutional citizenship and cultural preservation are in tension.
2. Do We Want a Pluralist Constitution? — Even if there is a potential role for the Insular Cases to play in protecting territorial culture, it does not necessarily follow that we should want to go where that road would lead. Judge Juan Torruella, for instance, decries the Insular Cases as creating “a regime of . . . political apartheid”172×172. Torruella, supra note 39, at 286. and notes “racial biases” as a factor underlying judicial responses to the statutory granting of citizenship, by the 1917 Jones Act, to Puerto Ricans.173×173. Id. at 326; see also Juan R. Torruella, The Insular Cases: A Declaration of Their Bankruptcy and My Harvard Pronouncement, in Reconsidering the Insular Cases, supra note 2, at 61, 62–63 (“In a nutshell, the Insular Cases represent classic Plessy v. Ferguson legal doctrine and thought that should be eradicated from present-day constitutional reasoning. . . . [T]hey represent the thinking of a morally bankrupt era in our history that goes against the most basic precept for which this nation stands: the equality before the law of all its citizens.” (footnote omitted)). Other judges have similarly lamented the continuing influence of this “thoroughly ossified set of cases marked by the intrinsically racist imperialism of a previous era of United States colonial expansionism.”174×174. Ballentine v. United States, No. CIV.1999-130, 2001 WL 1242571, at *7 (D.V.I. Oct. 15, 2001); see also Ballentine v. United States, No. CIV.1999-130, 2006 WL 3298270, at *4 (D.V.I. Sept. 21, 2006) (“[T]his Court regrets the enduring ‘vitality’ of the Insular Cases which, articulate the Constitution’s limits on the government’s ability to intrude in the lives of its citizens, depending on the physical location of those citizens.”), aff’d, 486 F.3d 806 (3d Cir. 2007). Such critiques suggest that the Insular Cases revisionism of Tuaua, however well meaning, may in truth serve to perpetuate an unequal and untenable status quo.
But in another, related context, Professor Robert P. Porter notes the “mixed reaction” among Native Americans to the statutory granting of citizenship, which he ultimately deems a “genocidal act” comprising part and parcel of an imperialist project to “civilize” the tribes and wipe out their cultures.175×175. Robert B. Porter, The Demise of the Ongwehoweh and the Rise of the Native Americans: Redressing the Genocidal Act of Forcing American Citizenship upon Indigenous Peoples, 15 Harv. BlackLetter L.J. 107, 167 (1999). Such diametrically opposed reactions reflect the divide in Tuaua and related cases.
More recent scholarship in the area of the Insular Cases illustrates the particularly vexed status of these questions in that framework. Professor Efrén Rivera Ramos speaks for a large number of modern critics when he charges that “the Insular Cases put the US Constitution at the service of colonialism.”176×176. Ramos, supra note 14, at 35. Laughlin, reflecting on Wabol and other recent case law, recognizes that the doctrine was “in some measure a product of a colonial mentality” and that “[a]t times it served colonial purposes.”177×177. Laughlin, supra note 171, at 344. But he argues for the framework’s “benign use” now that the territories enjoy considerable popular sovereignty that they did not previously exercise — “an important shift in the significance of the Insular Cases that many commentators seem to overlook,” by which “the incorporation doctrine became a basis for upholding local laws designed to protect indigenous people and their traditional culture.”178×178. Id. Other recent commentators have carried the same tune. Professor Zachary Price also argues for a reappropriation of the Insular Cases.179×179. Price, supra note 43, at 659 (“While these rulings served initially to facilitate imperial expansion, today they provide an important foundation for federal statutes and policies that enable native and territorial communities to govern themselves with unusual flexibility and autonomy.” (footnote omitted)). Price makes a similar argument regarding the legal framework for the treatment of Indian Tribes. See id. From a viewpoint of skepticism, Professor Gerald Neuman has acknowledged the emergence of this view in favor of “[a]ppropriating” the doctrine.180×180. Gerald L. Neuman, Constitutionalism and Individual Rights in the Territories, in Foreign in a Domestic Sense: Puerto Rico, American Expansion, and the Constitution 182, 197 (Christina Duffy Burnett & Burke Marshall eds., 2001); see also id. at 191.
Judge Brown’s opinion for the D.C. Circuit and the Philippines precedents from other circuits181×181. See supra note 36 and accompanying text. demonstrate just how fully such Insular Cases revisionism has gone mainstream. With the Supreme Court declining to weigh in for now,182×182. Cf. Laughlin, supra note 171, at 354; Bartholomew H. Sparrow, The Centennial of Ocampo v. United States, in Reconsidering the Insular Cases, supra note 2, at 39, 40–41 (describing “the legacy of the Insular Cases — a legacy that is in evidence more in the lower federal courts than in the Supreme Court,” id. at 40, which has cited the cases only five times in the last twenty-five years). it appears that a significant part of the federal judiciary has now concluded, with Laughlin, that it cannot “conceivably be in anyone’s interest for mainland judges to tell the U.S. [territories] that they must abandon [their] cultures.”183×183. Laughlin, supra note 171, at 375.
Tuaua thus represents the progression of a quiet revolution in Insular Cases jurisprudence. Not long ago, Laughlin was one of only a “few academic defenders” of the Supreme Court’s continued application of the “impractical and anomalous” test under the Insular Cases framework.184×184. Christina Duffy Burnett, A Convenient Constitution? Extraterritoriality After Boumediene, 109 Colum. L. Rev. 973, 994 (2009); Gerald L. Neuman, Extraterritorial Rights and Constitutional Methodology After Rasul v. Bush, 153 U. Pa. L. Rev. 2073, 2076 (2005) (“[T]he [‘impractical and anomalous’] approach has not yet acquired an academic theorist who would elaborate and defend it as the best interpretation of U.S. constitutionalism.”). Today, that approach is alive and well in the lower courts, many of which explicitly adopt the perspective of cultural preservation as a means of reclaiming and redeeming these fraught precedents.
It is a matter of no little embarrassment to a great number of modern scholars — and judges — that the Insular Cases remain the dominant framework today, despite, as Neuman notes, “the tectonic shifts in constitutional law, international law, and human rights conceptions that have intervened since 1901.”185×185. Gerald L. Neuman, Introduction to Reconsidering the Insular Cases, supra note 2, at xiii, xiv. As Ramos explains, however, a recognition of their dubious origins does not provide the “normative conclusion” as to what step to take next: “Should the cases be simply discarded? Can they be simply discarded, given the constitutional text and the history that accompanies their interpretive gloss?”186×186. Ramos, supra note 14, at 31.
The pluralist revisionism of Laughlin and Tuaua offers an answer that holds significant attractions for those who believe that citizenship should be a matter of consent.187×187. See, e.g., Smith, supra note 148, at 124–26. On the one hand, as Smith notes, the kind of “civic differentiation” blessed in these cases does and should raise suspicions given the way it is “deeply tied to America’s history of racial inequalities.”188×188. Id. at 128. As Neuman argues, such a multicultural vision of American constitutionalism is in tension with deep principles of equality and uniformity in our law.189×189. See Neuman, supra note 180, at 198–200. Professor Steve Vladeck has noted the danger of majoritarian tyranny inherent in allowing local custom or culture to overcome individual rights.190×190. See Steve Vladeck, Three Problems with Judge Brown’s Opinion in Tuaua, Just Security (June 7, 2015, 2:47 PM), https://www.justsecurity.org/23572/three-problems-tuaua [https://perma.cc/27J6-6HRK] (“[A]llowing the ‘impractical and anomalous’ test to be resolved based upon majoritarian sentiment fundamentally devalues the importance of constitutional rights in the territories — where the rights that aren’t supported by a majority are perhaps the most in need of judicial incorporation.”). And others might criticize this sort of doctrinal innovation as displaying less than proper judicial candor.191×191. See, e.g., David L. Shapiro, In Defense of Judicial Candor, 100 Harv. L. Rev. 731, 750 (1987); Akhil Reed Amar, The Supreme Court, 1999 Term — Foreword: The Document and the Doctrine, 114 Harv. L. Rev. 26, 50 n.73 (2000) (“[C]onstitutional amendments . . . do not whitewash the past. The earlier mistake remains visible in the text for all to see. In this way, the document is admirably honest about its past sins. By contrast, the Court has often been less forthright in confessing error. [There is] a general inclination on the part of Justices to cover up the sins of their predecessors . . . .” (citation omitted)).
But there are countervailing interests as well, including the accommodation of “distinctive features of [territorial residents’] ways of life that seem essential to their cultural survival.”192×192. Smith, supra note 148, at 128. The gift and the curse of the Insular Cases is their establishment of “diversity in governing regimes.”193×193. Sparrow, supra note 3, at 225. Historically, the doctrine allowed for colonial domination by Congress of the United States’ imperial acquisitions, because it deprived territorial residents of the individual rights guaranteed to other Americans. In another, more enlightened age, that same framework may prove flexible enough to safeguard the political diversity the residents of the territories demand and deserve.194×194. Id. at 225–26. Tuaua suggests that the mainstream view in the courts, if not yet in the academy, is that we are well on our way there.
Developments in the Law — American Samoa and the Citizenship Clause: A Study in Insular Cases Revisionism, 130 Harv. L. Rev. 1680 (2017).