It's the law: V.I. appeals will go directly to U.S. Supreme Court

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President Barack Obama signed into law a bill authorizing direct review of V.I. Supreme Court decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen said 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 legislation 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.

The bill arose after a review by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which recommended that the territory's appellate court have the same relationship to the U.S. Supreme Court as the highest courts in all 50 states.

On the mainland, decisions made by a state court can be appealed to the state's Supreme Court. The nation's Circuit Courts are the appellate courts of the federal District Court system. Appeals that come out of the state Supreme Courts and the Circuit Courts then go to the U.S. Supreme Court for a final review - but only if the highest court accepts the case.

The Organic Act mandates that five years after the establishment of an appellate court in the Virgin Islands, the 3rd Circuit must conduct a review and submit the findings to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the House Committee on Natural Resources.

The V.I. Supreme Court had its fifth anniversary on Jan. 29, but the review process began in December 2011. A special council that included Circuit Court judges spent months conducting research, reviewing all of the V.I. Supreme Court opinions, considering the court's rules and internal operating procedures, meeting and interviewing the justices themselves and interviewing other judges, the governor, members of the V.I. Legislature, the delegate to Congress, other public officials and members of the V.I. Bar Association.

When they finished, the council unanimously found that in the first five years of its operation, the V.I. Supreme Court has "developed sufficient institutional traditions to justify direct review by the Supreme Court of the United States."

The council's report recommends that Congress pass legislation to mandate that appeals to the V.I. Supreme Court go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court.

During the last five years, the V.I. Supreme Court has issued opinions on wide-raging cases, such as whether and when a judge could be disciplined to affirming in a landmark ruling that women are not property, according to Christensen. By her staff's unofficial count, the court has issued more than 180 published opinions since 2007.

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