Stacey Plaskett, the U.S. Virgin Islands’ representative in Congress, has urged President Joe Biden to nominate a Virgin Islander to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
Plaskett wrote the White House saying filling a vacancy on the federal court with an attorney or judge from the territory was vital, in part, because the court has jurisdiction over the Virgin Islands.
“It is of the utmost importance that judges of federal courts of appeal are representative of the geographic areas over which they exercise jurisdiction,” she wrote Thursday. “William H. Hastie was the first and last jurist who lived and practiced in the Virgin Islands to serve as a judge on the Third Circuit. With this current vacancy, you have the power to alter this narrative and continue to fulfill your promise of equal representation.”
Hastie, a trailblazing civil rights jurist appointed Virgin Islands governor in 1946 and who helped craft the Organic Act of 1936, left the court in 1971.
Plaskett praised Biden for nominating judges representing diversity in race, gender, and professional background — including the first Asian-American judge on the Third Circuit, Cindy K. Chung.
It was now the Virgin Islands’ turn, Plaskett said.
“The lack of diversity among judges adversely affects the quality of appellate decisions. Federal courts of appeal must often interpret territorial law on a regular basis, the lack of first hand knowledge of territorial criminal and civil law and practices of the territory leaves the appellate court at a disadvantage. This knowledge deficit can prove harmful to those whose cases originally arise within the V.I. As such, the absence of Virgin Islands representation creates the potential of Virgin Islanders receiving unequal justice,” she wrote.
St. Croix attorney Russell Pate said he was thrilled by Plaskett’s letter to Biden. Pate had long petitioned for a USVI judge on the court, writing President Barack Obama in 2016 with the same request.
“I am personally elated at Delegate Plaskett’s letter to the president requesting the president nominate a Virgin Islander. Since 2016, when I was the V.I. Bar president, the V.I. Bar has pushed for having a Virgin Islander as a judge on the Third Circuit,” Pate told the Source. “There is no reason that the one of the 15 judges of the Third Circuit cannot be someone from the Virgin Islands. It’s simply good policy — to give the court more respect and legitimacy — that it draws its candidates from all the jurisdictions that the Third Circuit has jurisdiction over. Further, there is a plethora of well-qualified and hard-working Virgin Islands attorneys and judges that would be a good selection for the Third Circuit.”
The Third Circuit hears cases from Delaware, New Jersey, large parts of Pennsylvania, and from the District Court of the Virgin Islands.