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Laws of South Pacific Island Nations: American Samoa

Guide to legal materials for South Pacific Island Nations available at UH Manoa.

Court Structure

The Chief Justice, and an Associate Justice, are appointed by the Secretary of the Interior. A panel of ten Samoan judges sit with and assist the Chief and Associate Justice, in deciding the wide range of cases before the High Court. Court proceedings are conducted, insofar as applicable, in accordance with U.S. Federal Rules of Civil and Criminal Procedure and the Revised Code of American Samoa. Proceedings are conducted in Samoan and English, unless the presiding judge stipulates that the hearing be conducted in one language only.

High Court (Trial and Appellate Divisions)

The High Court consists of four divisions:

  • the trial division; 
    • The trial division, which consists of the Chief Justice, the Associate Justice, and associate judges, is a court of general jurisdiction, empowered to hear, among other things, felony cases and civil cases in which the amount in controversy exceeds $5,000.
  • the probate division;
  • the land and titles division; and
  • the appellate division.

District Court

The district court hears matters such as misdemeanor criminal offenses and civil cases in which the matter in controversy does not exceed $5,000.

Village Court

Except for retrials before the District Court, the Village Courts shall have exclusive jurisdiction to impose penalties for violations of village regulations.

Establishment of American Samoa

Established: In the Department of the Navy by Executive Order 125A, February 19, 1900, following Senate ratification, February 16, 1900, of the Treaty of Berlin of 1899, which made the seven islands of eastern Samoa a U.S. possession, and assigned western Samoa to Germany.

Transfers: To the Department of the Interior by Executive Order 10264, June 29, 1951.

American Samoa is a territory of the United States of America. It became a U.S. territory by deed of cession, starting in 1900. The matai (local chiefs) of Tutuila, the largest island in American Samoa, ceded the island to the United States in 1900. Manu’a followed in 1904. Swain Island joined the territory in 1925 by an act of the Congress. Authority over American Samoa was initially placed with the U.S. Navy which oversaw the territory until 1951.

Authority was transferred to the Department of the Interior (DOI) in 1956 where it resides.

Even without an organic act or other explicit Congressional directive on governance, the people of American Samoa adopted their own constitution in 1967 and first constitutional elections were in 1977. Unlike citizens of other U.S. territories who are U.S. citizens, American Samoans are U.S. nationals. However, neither citizens nor nationals of U.S. territories vote in Federal elections and pay Federal taxes. American Samoa came under Federal minimum wage rules in 2007 and controls its own immigration and border matters. Taken from Department of Interior website.

Laws

The American Samoa flag is blue with a white triangle edged in red that is based on the fly side and extends to the hoist side; a brown and white American bald eagle flying toward the hoist side is carrying two traditional Samoan symbols of authority, a war club known as a "Fa'alaufa'i" (upper; left talon), and a coconut fiber fly whisk known as a "Fue" (lower; right talon); the combination of symbols broadly mimics that seen on the US Great Seal and reflects the relationship between the United States and American Samoa.