Judiciary of American Samoa
The Judiciary of American Samoa is defined under the Constitution of American Samoa and the American Samoa Code. It consists of the High Court of American Samoa and a local district court under the administration and supervision of the Chief Justice. Both courts are located in the capital of Pago Pago. The Chief Justice and the Associate Justice of the High Court are appointed by the United States Secretary of the Interior, and the six associate judges of the High Court and one local district court judge are appointed by the Governor of American Samoa.
Because American Samoa does not have a federal court like the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, or the United States Virgin Islands, matters of federal law arising in American Samoa have generally been adjudicated in the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii or the District Court for the District of Columbia.
The High Court consists of four divisions:
- the trial division;
- the probate division;
- the land and titles division; and
- the appellate 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.
There is one local district court judge, who hears matters such as misdemeanor criminal offenses and civil cases in which the matter in controversy does not exceed $5,000.
The Chief Justice and the Associate Justice of the High Court are appointed by the United States Secretary of the Interior and are required to be trained in the law. There are six associate judges of the High Court, who are appointed by the Governor and are not required to have formal legal training. The associate judges are matai, or chiefs, and they preside over cases in the High Court, playing a more significant role in deciding issues of matai titles and land.
Since the 1970s the Secretary of the Interior has appointed federal judges, usually from the Ninth Circuit, to serve temporarily as Acting Associate Justices in the appellate division of the High Court of American Samoa.
There is one local district court judge, who is appointed by the Governor and must also have formal legal training.
The Chief and Associate Justices, and the local district and associate judges hold office for life with good behavior.
The American Samoa judiciary has a public defender, probation officers, translators, and marshals.