Barnard v. Thorstenn

PETITIONER: Barnard
RESPONDENT: Thorstenn
LOCATION: Kansas City Missouri School District

DOCKET NO.: 87-1939
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 489 US 546 (1989)
ARGUED: Jan 11, 1989
DECIDED: Mar 06, 1989

ADVOCATES:
Cornish F. Hitchcock - on behalf of the Respondents
Maria Tankenson Hodge - on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Barnard v. Thorstenn

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 11, 1989 in Barnard v. Thorstenn

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll near argument next in No. 87-1939, Geoffrey W. Barnard v. Susan Esposito Thorstenn and Virgin Islands Bar Association v. Thorstenn.

Ms. Hodge, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Maria Tankenson Hodge:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court:

The question that is certified before you in this proceeding is whether Frazier v. Heebe prohibits the District Court of the Virgin Islands from requiring residence as a requisite for the practice of law in the Virgin Islands.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit concluded that Frazier bound the Court of Appeals to strike the Virgin Islands rule of residency and to exercise its supervisory power to do so.

In reaching that conclusion, the Court of Appeals was of the view that it need not consider the facts surrounding the practice of law in the Virgin Islands, but... that it was bound to treat Frazier as controlling as a matter of law, and disallowing rules of residence for any district court under its jurisdiction, which the District Court of the Virgin Islands is.

But the Virgin Islands, and the court system in the Virgin Islands, are unique; and the factual circumstances surrounding our court system, we feel clearly make the rule that has been enforced in the Virgin Islands both reasonable and necessary.

We would contend that the Court of Appeals erred in failing to consider whether the rule of residency was reasonable and necessary in the context of the practice of law in the Virgin Islands, and instead in applying Frazier as a per se rule.

There are two basic reasons why the Court of Appeals in our view is in error in its application of Frazier.

First, the District Court of the Virgin Islands is not a United States district court.

It is a court created by Congress, but it is a court in which Congress has vested the judicial power of the Virgin Islands.

The court has also been given the jurisdiction of a United States district court, but its status and its role are quite different from that of the United States district courts.

It functions, in effect, as the supreme court of the Virgin Islands.

It is the highest insular court and its rules of practice are, by rule, the rules for admission to the Virgin Islands bar.

We have an integrated bar association, and thus when one is admitted by the District Court of the Virgin Islands to practice, he becomes a member of the Virgin Islands Bar Association.

William H. Rehnquist:

There's nothing in the Virgin Islands judicial system, like the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, that sits side by side with the federal district courts?

Maria Tankenson Hodge:

That's correct, Judge.

Our district court functions as the closest equivalent to a supreme court of the Virgin Islands.

It hears the appeals from the territorial court system, which is the lowest trial court system in the Virgin Islands in terms of... supervisory authority.

The District Court of the Virgin Islands also acts as a court of original jurisdiction and hears civil matters where the amount in controversy is as little as $500, hears criminal matters where the charge is a felony even if the charge does not arise under federal law.

But the District Court of the Virgin Islands also functions as the appellate court for all decisions from the territorial court.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

So we treat it as an instrumentality of the Virgin Islands?

Maria Tankenson Hodge:

I believe that that is the correct treatment, at least to this extent, Justice Kennedy.

We think that the District Court of the Virgin Islands must be considered at least a hybrid court.

And in its rulemaking capacity, when it is fashioning rules for practice, since those rules by definition govern admission to the Virgin Islands bar as a whole, we think the proper standard to apply to that exercise of authority is at least the standard that the court would apply to a supreme court.

That is to say that the rule should not be struck under the exercise of the supervisory power, unless the rule would be unconstitutional, or unless it would be, in the language of the decisions from the territories that we have referred to, inescapably wrong or inescapably improper.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

But by the same token, I take it if it's an instrumentality of the Virgin Islands, then the federal statute making the... privileges immunities clause applicable to the Virgin Islands does apply here.

Maria Tankenson Hodge:

Yes, the statute does apply and we are subject to the privileges and immunities.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

All right.

Maria Tankenson Hodge:

In addition to the fact that the District Court of the Virgin Islands is this special and unique hybrid court, the Virgin Islands is in a factual setting which is quite unlike any that have reached the federal courts before, either under Frazier or under the several other cases which have been decided, Piper v. New Hampshire and Friedman v. Virginia.