A key undercard in this election cycle appears to be the issue of citizenship, which has shaped not only one primary race, but also the candidacy of Senator Ted Cruz. Just weeks after Puerto Rico supported Senator Marco Rubio’s stance on statehood with a majority vote in the Republican primary, and on the day arguments about the limits of Puerto Rico authority will be argued before the Supreme Court in Puerto Rico v. Franklin, American Samoa will vote in the Republican primary.
While they don’t have nearly the numbers or national political power of Puerto Rican voters, who also cannot vote in the general election, American Samoans have an additional issue to consider. While Puerto Ricans are considered citizens and are fully protected by 14th Amendment rights if they move to the mainland, people in American Samoa are considered U.S. nationals and not U.S. citizens, a distinction which means they must first be naturalized to vote in the general election, even if they migrate to the U.S. mainland.
This issue has finally come to a head with the plaintiffs in Tuaua v. United States, who have recently petitioned the Supreme Court. The U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. ruled last year that birthright citizenship does not extend to people in American Samoa, despite it being a part of the United States. If the Court does grant cert, its decisions in Tuaua and in Puerto Rico v. Franklin could reshape the legal parameters of territorial status, birthright citizenship, and voting.
How does today’s primary impact this long-simmering discussion? Well, the Canadian-born Cruz, the candidate expected to take most of the territory’s nine delegates––unbound by the primary vote, unless a territory resolution is based––could also spark a court clarification of citizenship with his own candidacy. Altough the clamor over Cruz’s birthright citizenship has died down in the past weeks, the question of just who can run and vote for president has emerged as a serious issue.
Almost two months after voting began in Iowa, the 2016 presidential race heads to a new batch of states on Tuesday, with contests in Utah, Arizona, Idaho, and American Samoa. For the Republicans, these contests give Donald Trump a chance to build his delegate lead, Ted Cruz a shot at knocking him off pace for a majority, and John Kasich the opportunity to remind voters he’s still running. On the Democratic side of the aisle, it touches off a string of contests in which Bernie Sanders may perform particularly well, as he works to persuade voters the race isn’t over yet.