Marshalls High Court rules on MP eligibility case

7:16 am on 26 February 2015

The Marshall Islands High Court in a landmark case says naturalized citizens have a constitutional right to run as candidates for the Nitijela (parliament).

Judge Dinsmore Tuttle granted Jack Niedenthal's motion for summary judgment on Wednesday, declaring in her 10-page ruling that Mr Niedenthal qualified to be a candidate for election as a member of the Nitijela.

The decision followed a two-hour hearing last Thursday where Attorney General Natan Brechtefeld and Mr Niedenthal's attorney David Strauss argued the case.

Last November, the country's chief electoral denied Mr Niedenthal's petition to run for Nitijela, saying he did not meet the requirements set by the parliament, which includes having one parent of Marshallese descent and traditional land rights through a lineage.

Jack Niedenthal has lived in this western Pacific nation for over 30 years and has been a citizen since 2000, voting in the past three national elections.

In her decision, Justice Tuttle, said resolution of this dispute is controlled by the Constitution of the Marshall Islands, and addresses a very important issue for the people of the Republic.

She said the question is what power does the Nitijela have to limit the constitutional rights of Marshallese citizens.

And more more specifically, do the people have the right to decide who will represent them in the Nitijela, or does the Nitijela have the right to decide who may represent the People.

Justice Tuttle ruled that Nitijela did not have the power to prescribe the eligibility qualifications in Section 145 (6) of the (Elections and Referenda) Act.

She described the country's Constitution as a very concise and readable document that, as opposed too many legal documents, it very clearly says what it means, and means what it says.

The judge pointed out that the Attorney General argued that Nitijela has the power to modify candidate qualifications listed in the Constitution.

But Justice Tuttle said the government points to no legal authority for its position that the Nitijela has any 'inherent' constitutional power to make laws, or any power other than that power granted by the Constitution.