Territorial Courts

Article 1 Section 8 Clause 9 of the U.S Constitution empowers the U.S. Congress to create tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court.  The powers enjoyed by territorial courts are similar to the powers of federal district courts.  However, unlike federal courts, Congress enjoys some power over the territorial courts.  Congress can set restrictions on the tenure of the members of the territorial courts.  A majority of the territorial courts that were initially established have been extinguished because the territories have been admitted to the Union as states.  The territorial courts now in existence are:

  • United States District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands
  • District Court of Guam
  • District Court of the Virgin Islands

Since the territories do not have separate bankruptcy courts, the territorial courts also have bankruptcy jurisdiction.  Decisions from the District Court of the Virgin Islands are appealable the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.  Decisions from the District Court of Guam and the District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands are appealable the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Although the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are not states, the District courts there are not U.S. territorial courts but Article 3 federal district courts.


Inside Territorial Courts