Territorial Legislature of American Samoa

This article will provide the reader with basic information about the Territorial Legislature of American Samoa. To fully appreciate the status of the Legislature at present, an understanding of American Samoa’s “political marriage” to the United States of America is necessary.

American Samoa became a territory of the United States in 1900. The United States – main interest at the time was the establishment of a coaling depot in Pago Pago Harbor where its commercial fleet operating between the West Coast and Australia/New Zealand, could refuel. Accordingly, President William McKinley assigned the administration of the islands to the Department of the Navy. Stepping up the efforts to keep self autonomy to the island government led to the transfer of administration to the Department of Interior in 1951.

American Samoa’s political status is defined as an “unorganized” and “unincorporated” territory of the United States. In plain language, it means that the U.S. Congress has yet to enact legislation designed to organize American Samoa’s territorial government or to incorporate it into the American Family of states and incorporated territories.


To adhere strictly to that definition, however, can be misleading. American Samoa has for several decades, enjoyed being treated by the United States as though it was a state, thus enabling the territory to receive assistance from the many federal programs designed originally to benefit states and/or incorporated territories.

Since the end of World Wart II, the island government made significant progress towards self-autonomy both politically and economically.

The “Fono”:

The Legislature of American Samoa is better known locally as the “FONO” (Samoan for official meeting). It is one of the three branches of the American Samoa Government; the others being the Executive Branch and the Judiciary.

The Authority:

The “Fono” was established in 1948 via and Executive Order (Amendment 3-1948, American Samoa Code). Its existence was reaffirmed under Article II of the Constitution of American Samoa which became effective in 1961.

The “Fono” Responsibilities:

The Legislature is empowered by the Constitution of American Samoa to pass legislation with respect to subjects of local application. No such legislation, however, may be inconsistent with the constitution or laws of the United States applicable to American Samoa, or in conflict with treaties on international agreements on the United States.
The Legislature enacts money bills funded with local revenues. It reviews and approves the governor’s budget requests for federal financial subsidies or assistance before such requests are submitted to the Department of the Interior for consideration and inclusion in the Department of Interior (DOI) budget.
Appointments by the Governor of department directors, members of certain boards and commissions, and other senior positions in the executive and the judiciary branches, are subject to confirmation by both Houses of the Legislature.