United States territory

A map of the Earth, showing the fifty U.S. states in green.

United States territory is any extent of region under the sovereign jurisdiction of the federal government of the United States, [1] including all waters (around islands or continental tracts) and all U.S. naval vessels. [2] The United States asserts sovereign rights for exploring, exploiting, conserving, and managing its territory. [3] This extent of territory is all the area belonging to, and under the dominion of, the United States federal government (which includes tracts lying at a distance from the country) for administrative and other purposes. [1] The United States total territory includes a subset of political divisions.

Territory of the United States

The United States territory includes any geography under the control of the United States federal government. Various regions, districts, and divisions are under the supervision of the United States federal government. The United States territory includes clearly defined geographical area and refers to an area of land, air, or sea under jurisdiction of United States federal governmental authority (but is not limited only to these areas). The extent of territory is all the area belonging to, and under the dominion of, the United States of America federal government (which includes tracts lying at a distance from the country) for administrative and other purposes.

Constitution of the United States

Original copy of the Constitution.

Under Article IV of the U.S. Constitution, territory is subject to and belongs to the United States (but not necessarily within the national boundaries or any individual state). This includes tracts of land or water not included within the limits of any State and not admitted as a State into the Union.

The Constitution of the United States states:

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.

Congress of the United States

Congress possesses power to set territorial governments within the boundaries of the United States. [4] The power of Congress over such territory is exclusive and universal. Congressional legislation is subject to no control, unless in the case of its being particularly and explicitly ceded to the territory by act of Congress. The U.S. Congress is granted the exclusive and universal power to set a United States territory's political divisions.

Supreme Court of the United States

All territory under the control of the federal government is considered part of the "United States" for purposes of law. [5] From 1901–1905, the U.S. Supreme Court in a series of opinions known as the Insular Cases held that the Constitution extended ex proprio vigore to the territories. However, the Court in these cases also established the doctrine of territorial incorporation. Under the same, the Constitution only applied fully in incorporated territories such as Alaska and Hawaii, whereas it only applied partially in the new unincorporated territories of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. [6] [7] A Supreme Court ruling from 1945 stated that the term "United States" can have three different meanings, in different contexts:

The term "United States" may be used in any one of several senses. It may be merely the name of a sovereign occupying the position analogous to that of other sovereigns in the family of nations. It may designate the territory over which the sovereignty of the United States extends, or it may be the collective name of the states which are united by and under the Constitution.

—  Hooven & Allison Co. v. Evatt, 324 652 (1945)

United States Department of the Interior

The United States Department of the Interior is charged with managing federal affairs within U.S. territory. [8] The Interior Department has a wide range of responsibilities (which include the regulation of territorial governments and the basic stewardship for public lands, et al.). The United States Department of the Interior is not responsible for local government or for civil administration except in the cases of Indian reservations, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as well as those territories administered through the Office of Insular Affairs. The exception is the "incorporated and unorganized" (see below) United States Territory of Palmyra Island, the legal remnant of the former United States Territory of Hawaii since 1959, [9] in which the local government and civil administration were assigned by the Secretary of the Interior to the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2001. [10]