Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he has responded to S. Falanai’s letter to the editor entitled “Concern at Large” published by Samoa News on July 7, 2006. The complete text of Faleomavaega’s response is included below.
I am writing in response to S. Falanai’s letter to the editor entitled “Concern at Large” published by Samoa News on July 7, 2006. Falanai raised several questions which I believe were excellent for public discussion.
S. Falanai asked why I spoke to the American Samoa Bar Association and not to the public. First, let me say that that the Bar Association asked me to make a presentation at its luncheon and discuss with its members some of the issues surrounding whether or not there should be a federal district court for American Samoa. I honored the Bar Association’s request.
Secondly, I have been very engaged with the public about this matter. In fact, I have issued many press releases to the newspapers and radio and have also been interviewed on radio and television. In 2001, I also conducted a survey to receive input from our people about this very important topic. More than 2,000 people took the time to respond and 76% agreed that we should have a federal court with limited jurisdiction. A copy of this survey and also my press statements are available on my website.
Beyond this, I have been in discussions with our local leaders from more than eight years about the need for a federal court with limited jurisdiction. In February of this year, based on several discussions and suggestions from our Fono and traditional leaders, I introduced a bill in Congress to provide for a federal district court of American Samoa with limited jurisdiction -- meaning that I included provisions to prevent the federal court from adjudicating cases involving matai titles and traditional communal land claims.
For S. Falanai’s information, American Samoa is the only territory under US control that does not have a federal district court. On the one hand, we cannot expect the United States to support us and, on the other hand, say that the US has no say in our territory. Also, it is not right that local residents have had to be physically taken like criminals by FBI agents either to Hawaii or Washington DC to be tried in court for violation of federal laws that apply to American Samoa. Our people deserve better than this.
While there may be some mixed feelings about a federal court presence in American Samoa, to my knowledge, in our entire 106 year relationship with the United States, there has never been a thorough review of the territory’s judiciary system. This is why Chairman Richard Pombo and Ranking Member Nick Rahall of the House Resources Committee have joined me in requesting the General Accounting Office (GAO) to conduct such a study.
The Congressman concluded his letter by saying, “I will be more than happy to share with S. Falanai a copy of our letter to the GAO which I believe will answer most of the questions he/she has raised concerning the US Constitution relative to local and federal court jurisdictions.”