Ms. CHRISTENSEN. Thank you, Congressman Scott, for yielding the time.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.R. 6116, legislation I sponsored to provide for direct appeals of decisions of the Virgin Islands Supreme Court to the U.S. Supreme Court.
I want to begin by thanking the chairman and ranking member of the Committee on the Judiciary and their staff for working together in a bipartisan way to swiftly report H.R. 6116 and bring it to the House floor today. On behalf of the people of the Virgin Islands, I want to say thank you to Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Conyers, as well as to my colleagues, Congressman Coble and Congressman Scott, who are managing the bill on the floor today.
It was just 5 months ago that I had the pleasure of joining the elected leaders of the Virgin Islands at a ceremony to celebrate the Virgin Islands Supreme Court reaching a historic milestone. Specifically, the occasion was to receive the report from the judicial council of the third circuit regarding their review of the Virgin Island Supreme Court during its first 5 years, as required by law, which authorized the Virgin Islands to create a local appellate court.
The third circuit report concluded that the U.S. Virgin Islands Supreme Court developed sufficient institutional traditions to justify direct review of its final decisions by the United States Supreme Court and urged Congress to enact legislation providing that the Supreme Court of the U.S. Virgin Islands enjoy the same relationship with the U.S. Supreme Court as the highest court of any State.
Today, the House will take the first step in making the Virgin Islands Supreme Court just like every other high court in the States and territories. This is just one more step on the journey for further local self-governance, which was begun in 1984 when my predecessor, former Delegate to Congress, Ron de Lugo, amended the Virgin Islands 1954 Organic Act to allow for the creation of an appellate court chartered under local law, while it took another 20 years for Virgin Islands Act No. 6687 to be signed into law by then-Governor Charles W. Turnbull, and 2 more years for a chief justice and two associate justices to be nominated and confirmed and for the Supreme Court to formally accept appellate jurisdiction.
Chief Justice Hodge and Associate Justices Cabret and Swan are to be [Page: H6355] commended for the work they did 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. In doing so, they are following our sister territory of Guam, which was the last Supreme Court to gain direct appeals of their decisions to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Over these past 5 years, the Virgin Islands Supreme Court has issued opinions on such wide-ranging cases as whether and when a judge could be disciplined, to affirming in a landmark ruling that women are not property. By my staff's unofficial count, among the court's many accomplishments is the issuance of over 180 published opinions since 2007.
Other noteworthy accomplishments include making several structural reforms in the areas of attorney admissions to the Virgin Islands Bar, discipline procedures, and mandating new requirements for continuing legal education courses for all active members of the Virgin Islands Bar Association.
[Time: 13:00] I had the pleasure of joining Chief Justice Hodge and Associate Justices Cabret and Swan at their official swearing-in ceremony in 2006. At that time I focused my remarks on the historic nature of the occasion as well as the personal relationships I share with each of the individual justices. With all that they have accomplished over the short time that this court has been in existence, all Virgin Islanders will look back on 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.
While it took more than 20 years after the law's authorizing us to establish a local appellate court, and while we are the last U.S. territory to do so, it is more than fitting that we are on the verge of accomplishing the final goal of making the U.S. Virgin Islands Supreme Court just like all other State supreme courts, and I urge my colleagues to vote in favor of H.R. 6116.