Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he has introduced H.R. 4182, a bill that would remove the requirement that amendments to the American Samoa Constitution can only be made with the approval of the U.S. Congress.
In a letter to the Governor and the Fono informing them of this legislative proposal, Faleomavaega expressed his concern over the current system, citing the difficulty in moving legislation through Congress and his concern that Congressional consideration of the American Samoa Constitution could raise serious issues over the constitutionality of certain provisions in the local constitution.
“As I recall, in 1983 former Governor Peter Coleman had expressed a desire to run for a third term since his first term lasted only for three years. The matter was taken to the High Court and Chief Justice Gardner ruled that Governor Coleman’s first three years was considered a full term and therefore he was ineligible to run a third time,” Faleomavaega noted.
“But the territory’s constitution provides that on matters that are appealed, the Secretary of the Interior makes the final decision. At that time, since Governor Coleman was a Republican and the Secretary of the Interior was also a Republican, there was concern that there may be some partisan politics involved in favor of Governor Coleman’s interest – and the whole idea that a single person like the Interior Secretary – by his signature alone – can change American Samoa’s political institutions – did not sit well with some of the territory’s political leaders. A bill was quickly introduced not only to prevent the Secretary of the Interior from ruling in favor of Coleman running for a third term, but required Congressional approval for any new changes in the territorial constitution,” Faleomavaega said.
“While the bill was going through the Congressional legislative process for approval, Governor Coleman decided not to appeal his case to the Secretary of the Interior, and decided thereafter not to run for a third term. However, Congress went ahead and gave approval to the bill, without amending the provisions of the 1929 federal law in 48 U.S.C. 1661, which basically gave Congressional ratification to the 1900 Tutuila and 1904 Manu’a Instruments of Cession, and with its plenary authority mandated under the U.S. Constitution over U.S. territories. It should be noted that this federal law states, “Until Congress shall provide for the government of such islands all civil, judicial, and military powers shall be vested in such person or persons and shall be exercised in such manner as the President of the United States shall direct…”
“Since 1929, the administration of American Samoa was assigned to the Secretary of the Navy by the President, and since 1950 President Truman amended the order and assigned the administration of the territory to the Secretary of the Interior,” Faleomavaega concluded.