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Am Samoa’s right to self-determination reaffirmed with unanimous consent

Congresswoman Amata speaking
Source: Uifa’atali Amata's D.C. staff press release

Washington, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives in a move requiring unanimous consent, on Monday adopted H.R. 6062, sponsored by Congresswoman Amata, which reaffirms American Samoa's right to self-determination, a principle of U.S. law and policy, also enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. The bill was previously passed by the House Natural Resources Committee by unanimous consent, affirming that the bill is non-controversial.

It’s important to note how the bill preserves the provision of the American Samoa constitution ratified in the 2022 amendment, which gives the delegate from Swain’s Island a right to vote. Had the amendments been subjected to ratification by the U.S. Congress, the Swain's Island amendment likely would have failed to be affirmed due to the U.S. constitutional requirement for equal representation by population both in congress and state legislatures.

“If the amendment had been considered by Congress, an early test would have been the provision granting a vote to the Swain's Island delegate,” said Aumua Amata.

“There is no question that in hearings over the amendments, American Samoa government witnesses would have been asked how many people lived on Swain’s and, once the answer given would have been ‘none,’ that amendment would not have been approved, although other amendments might have been. Instead, we had a successful legislative hearing over my bill, not the specific amendments, and passage of this bill successfully prevents that concern.”

American Samoa’s customs, many of which are enshrined in the Territory’s Constitution, are protected by the Deeds of Cession, which limit the application of the U.S. Constitution to American Samoa. The U.S. Congress is constrained from passing a law that is identifiably unconstitutional and in considering these amendments, the territory’s whole constitution could then arguably be open to scrutiny. Amata’s bill prevents such a scenario.

The bill now awaits Senate consideration and passage. Once signed into law by President Biden, the Interior Secretary's approval is expected to be pro forma.

Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) said, “H.R. 6062 would restore American Samoa’s decision-making authority when approving amendments to their territorial constitution, allowing greater self-determination. I am proud to stand by Representative Radewagen in advancing this important bill out of the House.”

Amata’s House Floor Remarks

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of my bill H.R. 6062, which repeals the outdated statute requiring amendments to American Samoa’s constitution be ratified by Congress.

I want to thank Chairman Westerman and Subcommittee Chair Hageman for their efforts to move this bill through committee, and I thank Ranking Members Grijalva and Leger-Fernandez for making this a bipartisan effort. I would also like to extend my sincere gratitude to my fellow territorial reps, Rep. Moylan and Rep. Sablan for their cosponsorship and support. The original piece of legislation that HR 6062 repeals, was moved through without regular order, and over the past several decades multiple attempts were made to walk back the bill and allow the necessary hearings and oversight to occur. Today that misstep has been corrected. 

H.R. 6062 provides equal treatment among the US territories, as no other territory has a similar restriction on editing their local laws. It is a critical piece of legislation for American Samoa, allowing us to enact constitutional changes as approved by our people without the burden of unnecessary bureaucracy in Washington. This bill is designed to restore the essential structure of our government to what it was intended to be, providing a much-needed adjustment to the previous 1983 law. The 1983 law, as it stands, is inconsistent with the principles of local self-government over local affairs—an area where Congress has rightly delegated local authority to us. The current law imposes restrictions that are outdated and counterproductive, hindering our ability to govern ourselves effectively.

This bill is about more than just procedural changes; it is about reaffirming our commitment to self-governance and democratic values. By removing unnecessary obstacles, we are reinforcing the principle that the people of American Samoa have the right and the ability to govern themselves. Thank you, I yield.