Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he has written to the Governor to inform him and other leaders of ASG about H.R. 4711, the bill he introduced in Congress to establish a Federal District Court in American Samoa with limited jurisdiction that would not be allowed to handle cases on matai titles or communal lands.
In his letter to the Governor, Faleomavaega announced that as a result of recent Fono Resolutions and opinions expressed by several traditional leaders opposing this legislation he will request the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee not to conduct any hearings on H.R. 4711 at this time. However, it should be noted that in 2001, Faleomavaega conducted a Congressional survey and more than 76% of the more than 2,000 individuals who responded agreed that American Samoa should be provided with a Federal District Court with limited jurisdiction.
“While I have agreed to defer hearings on H.R. 4711, I will request the General
Accounting Office (GAO) to conduct a study of the judiciary system in American Samoa,” Faleomavaega said. In a letter dated March 16, 2006, Faleomavaega informed the Governor of his intentions to request a GAO study. The full text of the Congressman’s letter is included below:
Dear Governor Togiola:
I am writing to inform you of the current status of H.R. 4711, legislation I introduced in Congress that would establish a Federal District Court in American Samoa.
I have received Resolutions from the Fono – the Senate and the House of Representatives – opposing the legislation to establish a federal court in American Samoa. This sentiment was also expressed by several of our traditional leaders at the recent public hearings, although many members of the community also spoke to me in support of the need for a federal district court. As a result of these resolutions and public response, I will request the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee not to conduct any hearings on H.R. 4711 at this time.
In view of the possible solutions that were discussed, it occurred to me that we need to obtain more specific information in order to ensure that our judiciary system can properly serve the people of American Samoa. As you know, the major thrust of the federal court bill was to address the fact that for the past three years our people have been physically taken from the Territory by FBI officials for prosecution in federal courts in Hawaii or Washington, DC., and their reason for doing this is because we do not have a federal district court in the Territory.
It will be my intention at this time is to request that the General Accounting Office (GAO) review our entire judicial system, e.g., its strengths, weaknesses, jurisdictional scope, logistics, and history. This review will also address the question of whether the High Court of American Samoa could be designated to handle cases that are usually assigned to federal district courts to adjudicate. This leads to another question – whether Department of the Interior-appointed judges can be authorized by Congress to exercise dual responsibilities even though they act under the provisions of 48 U.S.C. 1661 – the federal statute that set in motion the whole question how American Samoa was to be administered since 1929 by the United States Congress.
I firmly believe that the increased FBI presence in the Territory, and more generally DOI’s and DOJ’s support for finding a federal forum to prosecute federal crimes in American Samoa since the mid-1990’s, indicate the need for us to maintain as much control as possible over the form this imminent federal court presence will take. The information gathered by such a GAO Study would provide our people with a much better understanding of our judiciary system.
“While my focus has been on the fact that our people did not have access to a federal court presence in the territory, I also believe that a GAO study will help us examine the entire spectrum of our judiciary system of what, where, and how local and federal issues are to be resolved in the territory,” Faleomavaega concluded.