American Samoa constitutional convention approves amendments to limit federal authority

[JURIST] The US territory of American Samoa [official website; DOI backgrounder] on Saturday concluded a constitutional convention [official website] in which delegates considered proposed changes [text, PDF] to the territory's 1967 constitution [text] that would shift authority from the federal government to local officials by removing much of the authority of the US Department of the Interior (DOI) [official website] over territorial affairs. Specific changes would remove the DOI's ability to override vetoes of the American Samoan governor and remove its ability to reject amendments to the constitution. Delegates rejected a proposal [RNZI report] to transfer the authority to appoint members to the High Court from the DOI to the governor, however. The proposed constitutional changes would additionally create a right to jury trials and set the number of representatives in the territorial legislature, known as the Fono [official website]. The American Samoan government would also have the right to opt out of federal laws [RNZI report] deemed harmful to the territory and would be allowed to require that all members of the Fono be of Samoan ancestry [Samoa News report]. American Samoa's non-voting delegate to the US Congress, Eni Faleomavaega (D) [official website] opposed both proposals, describing them as unconstitutional under the US constitution. The changes will be put to American Samoan voters in November, and must also be approved by the DOI and Congress before taking effect.

The constitutional convention was called [order, PDF] by Governor Togiola Tulafono (D) [official website] earlier this month. Also in June, Faleomavaega called for a referendum on the political status of the territory, echoing a statement by Tulafono calling for greater autonomy for the territory [RNZI reports]. In explaining the need for greater local governance, Tulafono expressed the worry that local laws favoring those of Samoan decent may come to be challenged in the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] and cited the harmful effects of federal minimum wage laws that were applied to the territory in 2007. American Samoa has been a US territory since 1900, when the leaders of the three islands that comprise the unorganized and unincorporated south Pacific territory signed the Deeds of Cession [text, PDF]. The nearly 70,000 residents of the territory are US nationals, a status that is not recognized as US citizenship, and remain exempt from most federal laws and provisions of the US Constitution [text].

 

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