President Barack Obama Friday signed the bill authorizing direct review of Virgin Islands Supreme Court decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen announced Saturday.Christensen sponsored the legislation, H.R. 6116, which amends the Revised Organic Act of the Virgin Islands with respect to the judicial procedure for appealing the decisions of courts of the Virgin Islands to courts of the United States. The bill removes 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.
“I am pleased that the Virgin Islands has taken another step towards self governance, one that our local judiciary has worked hard to attain," the delegate said Saturday.
“The Virgin Islands now joins every other high court in the states and territories,” Christensen said. “Virgin Islanders should be proud of this achievement, which brings us a step closer in the journey for further local self-governance."
Over the last five years the V.I. Supreme Court has issued opinions on such wide-raging cases as whether and when a judge could be disciplined to affirming in a landmark ruling that women are not property. Christensen said by her staff’s unofficial count, the court has issued more than 180 published opinions since 2007.
She commended Chief Justice Rhys S. Hodge, Associate Justices Maria M. Cabret and Ive A. Swan for their work to earn the recommendation of the Third Circuit’s Judicial Council for appeals of their decisions to go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“All Virgin Islands will look back upon this time with great pride and gratitude for the way in which they laid the foundation for appellate jurisprudence in the territory that is second to none,” Christensen said.
The V.I. Supreme Court was made possible in 1984 when Congress amended the Revised Organic Act of 1954, the federal act that establishes local government institutions and the territory’s legal relationship with the United States. V.I. legislation proposed in 2004 and enacted in 2006 established the high court.
Before the V.I. Supreme Court was established, appeals from V.I. Superior Court decisions were heard by the U.S. District Court for the Virgin Islands, then by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. After it was established, the Third Circuit had review by writ of certiorari.
As a condition of the court’s founding in 2007, a trial period was set in which the Third Circuit Court of Appeals maintained strict oversight of the new legal body and exercised direct review over all decisions it rendered. The legislation also required the Third Circuit to review the V.I. Supreme Court every five years for a 15-year span.
The bill signed Friday puts into effect the recommendations of that first review, encapsulated in a recent report of The Judicial Council of the Third Circuit. That report said the Virgin Islands Supreme Court “has developed sufficient institutional traditions to justify direct review by the Supreme Court of the United States of all final decisions.”
The change means the V.I. Supreme Court would be the final arbiter of most cases, and there would no longer be review by writ of certioriari to the Third Circuit.
This story has been corrected to state that before the establishment of the V.I. Supreme Court, V.I. Superior Court cases were appealed to U.S. District Court, after the Supreme Court was established, the Third Circuit had review by writ of certiorari, and with the enactment of this legislation, the U.S. Supreme Court alone has review by writ of certiorari.