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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, July 24, 2024


March 17, 2002—At 9 a.m. Thursday a St. Thomas federal judge will conduct an extraordinary hearing in a lawsuit demanding full citizenship rights for American Virgin Islanders.
Although seemingly destined for dismissal under long established federal law, Ballentine v. U.S. has attracted enough attention in legal and political circles that a packed courtroom appears a certainty.
The main reason for the attention is that Judge Thomas K. Moore already has declared he shares many of the views of the plaintiff, Krim M. Ballentine.
Ballentine, a self-professed philosopher who is acting as his own attorney, filed suit in 1999 against the U.S. government, challenging the legal and moral foundations of the relationship between the government and this unincorporated territory, whose American citizens cannot vote for president and are denied voting representation in Congress.
In a hearing last year, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joycelyn Hewlett, UVI graduate and former reporter for the Virgin Islands Daily News, moved for dismissal of Ballentine's suit.
Moore demurred.
"In its motion to dismiss, the United States would reject as 'specious' the plaintiff's efforts to question the inferior and unequal nature of United States citizenship in the Virgin Islands," Moore wrote.
"I am not willing to overrride so cavalierly the plaintiff's sensibilities for I share them," he declared.
Moore then ordered the parties to file supplemental briefs on 10 specific questions he found in Ballentine's complaint and Hewlett's arguments. He also invited the International Human Rights Law Clinic at Yale University's Law School to submit an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief.
Yale obliged with a 42-page brief concluding that "to maintain the status quo in the Virgin Islands is to perpetuate a remnant of colonialism that violates the contemporary international law obligations of the United States."
Another amicus brief was filed by Riel J. Faulkner, a St. Thomian and former clerk to Judge Moore who now practices law on the mainland.
Faulkner concentrated his wrath on the so-called Insular Cases, a set of Supreme Court decisions from early last century that are used to justify U.S. Congress control over the Virgin Islands.
Faulkner's brief admits that Moore, under existing law, must dismiss Ballentine's complaint. But Faulkner urges Moore to use the dismissal to "inform the federal judiciary that the continued application of the Insular Cases is 'revolting' to the law and abhorrent to all that our society has achieved – painfully – over the last century."
So the stage is set for Thursday's hearing in Moore's courtroom on the St. Thomas waterfront.
All the parties, including Faulkner and representatives from Yale, will be there. Many members of the legal and political communities also are expected to listen to their verbal arguments.
Moore is not expected to rule from the bench. Most observers expect a written judgement from the 64-year-old Republican who is nearing the end of his first 10-year term on the federal court in the Virgin Islands.
Many lawyers think Moore will have no choice but to dismiss Ballentine's complaint, in which case Ballentine has promised to appeal the judge's decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.
"What's Judge Moore going to do?" one lawyer asked. "Throw out the Insular Cases? Nullify the Organic Act? Order that Virgin Islanders can vote in the next presidential election, despite what the Constitution says?"
This lawyer and several of his colleagues, none of whom wanted their names used, speculated that Faulkner's brief might be closer to the mark in suggesting Moore use his dismissal to issue a declaration of contempt for the second class citizenship that applies to citizens in the Virgin Islands.
Despite their differences on the likely outcome of the case, all observers agree they would be hard put to come up with a more colorful plaintiff than Ballentine.
Born 65 years ago in St. Louis, Missouri, Krim Meneluk Ballentine is a Moslem (Meneluk was an Ethiopian warrior king). He served 23 years as a deputy federal marshal and came to the territory to supervise security at the 1973 trial of the five men accused of the Fountain Valley massacre on St. Croix.
He's on his second reading of the Bible and his fourth reading of the Koran.
Nevertheless, he said, "I'm considered a buffoon down here. They think I'm talking from an unskilled head."
He said he couldn't find a lawyer to help with his case and didn't want to involve his wife, Rosalie Ballentine, former Virgin Islands Attorney General.
"I love my country, I love America," Ballentine said last week. "I hope the judge will rule that we're more than property."
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