“We the People Project” Lost In Legal Maze

After losing the American Samoa citizenship case (Tuaua v. U.S.), Neil Weare’s brain child, “We the People Project”  began a new round of fundraising for a follow up litigation effort. This time Weare filed the case of Segovia v. U.S. in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

The Segovia project seeks to secure for U.S. unincorporated territories the same voting rights U.S. citizens from the territories have when they leave the territory to come reside and vote in a State of the Union.

In this new case Weare claims all U.S. citizens should be able to vote wherever they live, including the U.S. territories as well as overseas in other locations outside the United States. Yet, the actual legal issue in the Segovia case primarily is one of narrow federal statutory interpretation.

Can former residents of states vote in territories?

Specifically, in Segovia the real legal question Weare is trying to exploit arises from a lack of uniformity in application of federal absentee voting laws in some territories but not others. These overseas voting laws allow citizens living outside the States to vote in the last State in which they previously had residence and voting rights.

Of course, even if “We the People Project” were successful in the Segovia case, seeking uniform application of federal statutes applied in territories, that would not create federal voting rights for citizens in the territories who had not previously resided and voted in a State.

Accordingly, unless the court declares that all U.S. citizens anywhere in the world have the same voting rights as citizens in a State, if Weare “wins” the Segovia case federal voting rights would remain State-based and continue to be denied directly to the residents and vast majority of voters of the territories.

The courts say no.

However, even that limited absentee voting right for all territories has been rejected at the trial level by the U.S. District Court in which Segovia was filed. Yes, once again Weare lost another case financed by donors in the territories whose expectations of success were high.

That led to yet another round of fundraising for the appeal Weare filed. Oddly, on the “We the People Project” website the Segovia appeal is linked to recent Harvard Law Review articles on territorial law.

PR51ST has published a commentary on the HLR articles. It is not clear at all the narrow focus of the real issues in the Segovia case raise the same fundamental constitutional questions as the HLR essays regarding federal territorial law and policy.

Again, even if the appellate court ruled as Weare now asks, it would not create fully equal citizenship rights – including federal voting rights – in territories under the Constitution. Rather, if Weare were to prevail it would just mean Congress must either allow former State resident voters in all the territories to cast absentee ballots in States where they last voted, or to deny absentee voting rights to all the territories.

Indeed, even if the Segovia court overturned the 1922 ruling in Balzac v. Puerto Rico and instead now held that the U.S. citizen populated territories are actually incorporated under the Constitution, that would not confer federal voting rights to residents of a territory. Federal voting rights for all U.S. citizens in a territory by direct application of the Constitution does not happen unless and until the territory is admitted as a State, or made part of an existing State (with permission of the State concerned).

Weare is smart enough to know his litigation project is more about symbolism than substance. But even with unrelenting fundraising appeals in Weare’s peripatetic social media and blog editorializing, “We the People Project” will run out of funding if Segovia is the best Weare can do.

That is why Weare finally has started talking about the need for amendment of the U.S. Constitution to give rights of States to territories.

Weare’s constitutional amendment gambit will be the topic of the third and final installment of this series on the efficacy of the “We the People Project.”

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