American Sāmoa is unique among the U.S. territories in that it does not have a federal district court. Its court system comprises two levels, as articulated in the Constitution of American Sāmoa: the High Court and the District Court. The High Court of American Sāmoa is headed by the Chief Justice and comprises the trial division, the probate division, the appellate division, and the land and titles division.
Village Courts are provided for every village and its judges are assigned by the Chief Justice.
The Land and Titles Division is unique in American Sāmoa in that it handles cases revolving around land and matai titles.
Unlike, most other judiciaries in the United States, only the Chief Justice and the Associate Justice of the High Court are required to have formal legal training, while Associate Judges do not.
In this section, we investigate the role of the courts in maintaining the Faʻasāmoa for the preservation of the Faʻamatai and the Indigenous land tenure system.
We also explore why Associate Judges are not required to have formal legal training and how knowledge of Indigenous knowledge and custom are important for adjudicating village affairs and cases around land and matai titles. We look specifically at how judges rely on traditional Samoan law in handling cases on Samoan custom.
We also explore the implications of the U.S. Constitution on the judiciary in American Sāmoa and if all aspects of it could survive if any challenges were brought against it in the federal courts.
Chief Justice Michael Kruse
Chief Justice Michael Kruse is the current head of the High Court of American Sāmoa. He will share his views on the role of the judiciary in the Territory and its relation to preserving traditional Samoan institutions. He will discuss the role of the Land and Titles Division in adjudicating disputes regarding land and the bestowal of matai titles. He will share the potential impacts of the federal courts on the American Samoan judiciary and the legal standing of the Land and Titles Court should challenges be brought against it.
The Associate Judge of the Land and Titles Division of the High Court will discuss his role in handling disputes between parties in land claims and succession to chiefly titles.
NOT FULLY AMERICAN
Does the U.S. Constitution Follow the Flag in American Sāmoa?