CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Wednesday, November 14, 2012, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 6116, a bill that would amend the Revised Organic Act of the Virgin Islands, under suspension of the rules. The bill was introduced on July 12, 2012, by Rep. Donna Christensen (D-VI) and referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.
H.R. 6116 would amend the Revised Organic Act of the Virgin Islands in order to remove the temporary jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to review the final decisions of the highest court of the Virgin Islands. The bill would thereby provide for direct appeals from the Virgin Islands Supreme Court to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The U.S. Virgin Islands (“V.I.”) is an unincorporated organized territory of the United States acquired by purchase from Denmark in 1917. Congress extended U.S. citizenship to the residents of the islands in 1927 and enacted extensive organic legislation in 1936 that officially established the possession as a territory and created its governmental framework. Congress replaced the 1936 statute with a Revised Organic Act in 1954 that included a provision to vest judicial power in a court of record called the District Court of the Virgin Islands and in any lower courts established by local law. Subsequent acts passed by Congress and the V.I. Legislature led to the creation of the modern-day (local trial-level) V.I. Superior Court (2004) and the V.I. Supreme Court (2007).
The V.I. Supreme Court consists of a Chief Justice and two Associate Justices. They are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the V.I. Legislature for a 10-year term (reappointments are for life). The Court is assisted by active judges of the Superior Court and of retired judges of V.I. courts of record who serve as “Designated Justices” to fill vacancies on the V.I. Supreme Court caused by disqualifications or other absences.
The V.I. Supreme Court is the equivalent of a U.S. State Supreme Court. It is authorized to review all final orders, judgments, and specified interlocutory orders of the V.I. Superior Court. Appeals from the V.I. Supreme Court are made by petitions of certiorari to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; however, the Revised Organic Act specifies that discretionary review by the Third Circuit exists for the first 15 years following the establishment of the V.I. Supreme Court or until “it has developed sufficient institutional traditions to justify direct review by the Supreme Court of the United States from all such final decisions,” whichever is sooner. The Third Circuit’s Judicial Council is tasked with evaluating the progress of the V.I. Supreme Court in five-year intervals.
According to the Committee on the Judiciary, the bill was vetted with a law professor who specializes in Constitutional law and the operations of federal courts as well as the Chief Clerk of the United States Supreme Court, who apprised the Chief Justice of the bill’s status. They provided constructive suggestions about the drafting of the proposed Smith substitute/suspension version. The Court does not object to enactment of the bill.
The CBO did not have a cost estimate at press time.