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Article IV Territorial Courts

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What is an Article IV Territorial Court?

Article IV  courts are US Territorial Courts, such as those of Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin Islands, established under the Territory Clause of Article IV.

Discussion: Think about the formation of courts in these jurisdictions. These are not states and, therefore, Congress must act to establish courts with jurisdiction over these protectorates. How do you feel about territories of the United States that are not represented in the Federal Government, but are subject to federal jurisdiction?

Discussion Input
  • Some would argue that subjecting a jurisdiction to federal law without representation within the established government runs afoul of principles of democracy. The same argument applies for the District of Columbia, whose license tags read, “taxation without representation”. Others would argue that protectorates lack the status of a state and the US Constitution is clear that only states are afforded federal representatives.

Practice Question: In the US Territory of Guam, Hanna is the victim of a crime when someone steals her automobile. What laws would be affected in this scenario and how would this situation differ from a similar occurrence in California?

Proposed Answer

If Hanna were located in California, the crime against her property would likely be subject to state law. If a defendant were apprehended, he or she would face charges in state court. Guam is note a state and does not have a state court. Rather, the trial court of Guam is the District Court of Guam, a federal trial court. This court is authorized under Article IV of the US Constitution.

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