Section 1801. Approval of Covenant


Commission Comment: As stated in its preamble, the Covenant, a "mutually binding" document, "establish[es] a self-governing commonwealth for the Northern Mariana Islands within the American political system and . . . define[s] the . . . relationship between the Northern Mariana Islands and the United States." 


The Covenant was negotiated over the course of twenty-seven months (December 1972 to February 1975) by the Marianas Political Status Commission (an organization representing the Northern Mariana Islands) and a delegation representing the United States. The proposed Covenant was signed by negotiators on February 15, 1975, at Saipan. (See text following Section 1005.)


The Covenant was subsequently approved, pursuant to the steps specified in Section 1001, as follows:


  • On February 20, 1975, the Covenant was submitted to and approved (unanimously) by the Mariana Islands District Legislature of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.


  • On June 17, 1975, the Covenant was submitted to the people of the Northern Mariana Islands voters in a plebiscite. At the time, 95 percent of eligible voters had registered to vote. Of the 95 percent of all registered voters who cast ballots in the plebiscite, 78.8 percent voted to approve the Covenant.

After the results of the plebiscite were certified to the President of the United States, the Covenant was approved by joint resolution adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives on July 21, 1975, and the U.S. Senate on February 24, 1976. On March 24, 1976, President Gerald Ford signed the resolution, which thereupon became U.S. Public Law 94-241, 90 Stat. 263.


Pursuant to Section 1003(a), some Covenant provisions became effective on March 24, 1976, the date of final approval. Remaining provisions took effect on January 9, 1978, and November 4, 1986, the dates specified in Presidential proclamations issued pursuant to Section 1003(b)-(c). On the latter date, qualified residents of the Northern Mariana Islands became U.S. citizens.


According to Section 105, many specified "fundamental" Covenant provisions may be modified only with the joint consent of the U.S. and Commonwealth governments. Other provisions may be unilaterally amended by the U.S. government. In U.S. Public Law 98-213, enacted in 1983, Congress unilaterally amended Section 606(b), a non-fundamental provision concerning Social Security taxes and benefits. (See note following Section 606.) As of January 1997, that enactment remains the only express amendment of any Covenant provision.


U.S. Public Law 94-241, the measure approving the Covenant, was originally reprinted in the U.S. Code in a note under 48 U.S.C. § 1681. In an official edition of the U.S. Code published in 1986, several provisions of the act were codified (as amended) as 48 U.S.C. §§ 1801-1805. (See also C-201 et seq.)


§ 1801. Approval of Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands


The Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States of America, the text of which is as follows, is hereby approved.



Case Annotations: Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34--40, 41, 49, 50; Mafnas v. Superior Ct., 1 N.M.I. 277--281 (1990) appeal dismissed, 936 F.2d 1068 (9th Cir. 1991); Aldan-Pierce v. Mafnas, 2 N.M.I. 122--132, 133 (1991), rev'd, 31 F.3d 756 (9th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. ___, 115 S. Ct. 913, 130 L. Ed. 2d 794 (1995); Sablan v. Inos, 2 N.M.I. 388--392, 393; Sablan v. Inos, 3 N.M.I. 418--426; Sablan v. Tenorio, 4 N.M.I. 351--361, 365, 367, 368, 369, 372, 373, 374, 376.


Nature and Effect of Covenant


—Generally

The entire relationship between the United States and the Commonwealth is governed by the Covenant. Sablan v. Inos, 3 N.M.I. 418 (1993).


The Covenant is not a unilateral enactment by the U.S. Congress. It is not an organic act, which Congress may unilaterally change at its pleasure. Because the Covenant is a binding bilateral agreement between the U.S. and the people of the NMI, neither party may unilaterally amend Covenant's fundamental provisions without the consent of the other. To do so would constitute a material breach of the Covenant. Sablan v. Inos, 3 N.M.I. 418 (1993).


In entering into the Covenant, the U.S. fulfilled its United Nations Trusteeship obligation to have the people of the NMI exercise their inherent right of self-determination. The people of the NMI entered into the Covenant to become a self-governing commonwealth in political union with and under the sovereignty of the U.S.; they did not enter into the Covenant to become a territory or possession of the U.S., as those terms are used in the U.S. Constitution. In interpreting the Covenant, the aspirations of the people of the NMI and the purpose for which the U.S. entered into the Covenant should be kept in mind. Sablan v. Inos, 3 N.M.I. 418 (1993).


Covenant § 101 places the NMI under the sovereignty of the United States. Sablan v. Inos, 3 N.M.I. 418 (1993).


The Covenant is an agreement entered into between the United States government and the government and people of the Northern Mariana Islands. The parties entered into agreement as two separate but equal sovereign entities. The Covenant governs the relationship between the parties. Sablan v. Inos, 2 N.M.I. 388 (1991).


The Covenant may be amended or terminated only by agreement of the parties to the Covenant, or as provided in Covenant, but not by unilateral action. Covenant § 105. Sablan v. Inos, 2 N.M.I. 388 (1991).


The Covenant is a permanent, binding and solemn agreement entered into between two sovereign peoples. Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34 (1989), rev'd, 11 F.3d 124 (9th Cir. 1993).


The Covenant is not just a simple contract. It is a binding commitment by two peoples with certain provisions so sacrosanct as to be unchangeable without the consent of both parties. Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34 (1989), rev'd, 11 F.3d 124 (9th Cir. 1993).


Purpose of the Covenant is to establish a self-governing Commonwealth and to define the future relationship between the NMI and the United States. Covenant preamble. Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34 (1989), rev'd, 11 F.3d 124 (9th Cir. 1993).


All acts of U.S. Congress and NMI Legislature relevant to Covenant should be interpreted consistent with Covenant, unless a contrary intention is clear. Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34 (1989), rev'd, 11 F.3d 124 (9th Cir. 1993).


NMI Supreme Court may not question the wisdom of an enactment of the NMI Legislature when the legislature is within its authority under the Covenant. Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34 (1989), rev'd, 11 F.3d 124 (9th Cir. 1993).


Whereas, the Charter of the United Nations and the Trusteeship Agreement between the Security Council of the United Nations and the United States of America guarantee to the people of the Northern Mariana Islands the right freely to express their wishes for self-government or independence; and


Whereas, the United States supports the desire of the people of the Northern Mariana Islands to exercise their inalienable right of self-determination; and


Whereas, the people of the Northern Mariana Islands and the people of the United States share the goals and values found in the American system of government based upon the principles of government by the consent of the governed, individual freedom and democracy; and


Whereas, for over twenty years, the people of the Northern Mariana Islands, through public petition and referendum, have clearly expressed their desire for political union with the United States; Now, therefore, the Marianas Political Status Commission, being the duly appointed representative of the people of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Personal Representative of the President of the United States have entered into this Covenant in order to establish a self-governing commonwealth for the Northern Mariana Islands within the American political system and to define the future relationship between the Northern Mariana Islands and the United States. This Covenant will be mutually binding when it is approved by the United States, by the Mariana Islands District Legislature and by the people of the Northern Mariana Islands in a plebiscite, constituting on their part a sovereign act of self-determination.


Case Annotations: Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34--41; Sablan v. Inos, 2 N.M.I. 388-- 395; Sablan v. Inos, 3 N.M.I. 418--429.