Article 4: Judicial Authority


  • Case Annotations: Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34--42, 47, 48, 50; Vaughn v. Bank of Guam, 1 N.M.I. 160--164.


Section 401. The United States will establish for and within the Northern Mariana Islands a court of record to be known as the "District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands". The Northern Mariana Islands will constitute a part of the same judicial circuit of the United States as Guam.


  • Case Annotations: Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34--42, 43; Vaughn v. Bank of Guam, 1 N.M.I. 160--164.


Section 402(a) The District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands will have the jurisdiction of a district court of the United States, except that in all causes arising under the Constitution, treaties or laws of the United States it will have jurisdiction regardless of the sum or value of the matter in controversy.


(b) The District Court will have original jurisdiction in all causes in the Northern Mariana Islands not described in Subsection (a) jurisdiction over which is not vested by the Constitution or laws of the Northern Mariana Islands in a court or courts of the Northern Mariana Islands. In causes brought in the District Court solely on the basis of this subsection, the District Court will be considered a court of the Northern Mariana Islands for the purposes of determining the requirements of indictment by grand jury or trial by jury.


  • Case Annotations: Gioda v. Saipan Stevedoring Co., Inc., 1 N.M.I. 310--312, 314.


(c) The District Court will have such appellate jurisdiction as the Constitution or laws of the Northern Mariana Islands may provide. When it sits as an appellate court, the District Court will consist of three judges, at least one of whom will be a judge of a court of record of the Northern Mariana Islands.


  • Case Annotations: Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34--42, 43, 44, 45, 49; Vaughn v. Bank of Guam, 1 N.M.I. 160--164; Commonwealth v. Bordallo, 1 N.M.I. 208--213; Commonwealth v. Superior Ct., 1 N.M.I. 287--293; Gioda v. Saipan Stevedoring Co., Inc., 1 N.M.I. 310--312.


—Appellate Jurisdiction Fact that federal statute concerning NMI District Court jurisdiction over appeals from NMI cases did not contain language providing that if NMI established its own appellate court appeals pending in the NMI District Court would not be affected was significant. The U.S. Congress was bound by terms of Covenant: the NMI will provide the NMI District Court with whatever appellate jurisdiction it was to have, and it could at any time eliminate appellate jurisdiction. 48 U.S.C. § 1694b. Covenant § 402. Commonwealth v. Superior Ct., 1 N.M.I. 287 (1990).


Covenant § 402(c) permits the NMI to provide NMI District Court with appellate jurisdiction over NMI cases, or to eliminate such jurisdiction. The NMI cannot establish NMI District Court. Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34 (1989), rev'd, 11 F.3d 124 (9th Cir. 1993).


Pursuant to Covenant § 402(c), the U.S. Congress provided that the appellate jurisdiction of the NMI District Court in future or pending appeals from NMI cases would cease upon establishment of NMI appellate court. 48 U.S.C. § 1694b(a). Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34 (1989), rev'd, 11 F.3d 124 (9th Cir. 1993).


Under Covenant, only NMI could properly enact law eliminating appellate jurisdiction of the NMI District Court. 1 CMC § 3108. Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34 (1989), rev'd, 11 F.3d 124 (9th Cir. 1993).


NMI effectively eliminated appellate jurisdiction of NMI District Court in all NMI cases, whether pending or future. 1 CMC § 3108. Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34 (1989), rev'd, 11 F.3d 124 (9th Cir. 1993).


U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals functions as a second appellate level for NMI cases because of authority granted in Covenant Article IV and because of its jurisdiction to hear appeals from NMI District Court. Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34 (1989), rev'd, 11 F.3d 124 (9th Cir. 1993).


Federal statute granting Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals jurisdiction over appeals from NMI District Court Appellate Division should be interpreted consistent with Covenant, implementing obligations imposed thereunder upon United States. 48 U.S.C. § 1694b(c). Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34 (1989), rev'd, 11 F.3d 124 (9th Cir. 1993).


To interpret federal statute granting U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals jurisdiction over appeals from NMI District Court Appellate Division to contradict or limit right of NMI to provide for or eliminate jurisdiction of federal courts over appeals in NMI cases would mean a rewriting of the Covenant by U.S. Congress and NMI Supreme Court. 48 U.S.C. § 1694b(c). Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34 (1989), rev'd, 11 F.3d 124 (9th Cir. 1993).


Nothing in the Covenant or 48 U.S.C. § 1694b(c) expressly or impliedly limits the authority of the NMI to eliminate jurisdiction of federal courts over appeals in NMI cases, whether pending or future. Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34 (1989), rev'd, 11 F.3d 124 (9th Cir. 1993).


Within context of Covenant Article IV, purpose of 48 U.S.C. § 1694b(c) is to provide that NMI cases, once appealed to NMI District Court Appellate Division, will continue on in the normal appellate process within the federal court system. Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34 (1989), rev'd, 11 F.3d 124 (9th Cir. 1993).


Since, pursuant to Covenant Article IV, NMI could terminate jurisdiction of U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as to future appeals from NMI cases, then logically it could terminate such jurisdiction over pending appeals. Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34 (1989), rev'd, 11 F.3d 124 (9th Cir. 1993).


Covenant §§ 401 and 402(c) permit the U.S. Congress to establish the NMI District Court and to empower it to receive original and appellate jurisdiction over NMI cases as may be provided by the NMI, and nothing more. Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34 (1989), rev'd, 11 F.3d 124 (9th Cir. 1993).


Section 403.

(a) The relations between the courts established by the Constitution or laws of the United States and the courts of the Northern Mariana Islands with respect to appeals, certiorari, removal of causes, the issuance of writs of habeas corpus and other matters or proceedings will be governed by the laws of the United States pertaining to the relations between the courts of the United States and the courts of the several States in such matters and proceedings, except as otherwise provided in this Article; provided that for the first fifteen years following the establishment of an appellate court of the Northern Mariana Islands the United States Court of Appeals for the judicial circuit which includes the Northern Mariana Islands will have jurisdiction of appeals from all final decisions of the highest court of the Northern Mariana Islands from which a decision could be had in all cases involving the Constitution, treaties or laws of the United States, or any authority exercised thereunder, unless those cases are reviewable in the District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands pursuant to Subsection 402(c).


  • Case Annotations: Vaughn v. Bank of Guam, 1 N.M.I. 160 (1990), stay denied, 1 N.M.I. 318--320.


(b) Those portions of Title 28 of the United States Code which apply to Guam or the District Court of Guam will be applicable to the Northern Mariana Islands or the District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands, respectively, except as otherwise provided in this Article.


  • Case Annotations: Vaughn v. Bank of Guam, 1 N.M.I. 160--166, 168; 1 N.M.I. 277--280; Aldan-Pierce v. Mafnas, 2 N.M.I. 122--132, 133 (1991), rev'd, 31 F.3d 756 (9th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. ___, 115 S. Ct. 913, 130 L. Ed. 2d 794 (1995).