Commonwealth Constitution : Article IV


JUDICIAL BRANCH
 

Case Annotations: Wabol v. Villacrusis, 1 N.M.I. 34--42. 


Commission Comment: This entire article was replaced by the provisions of Section 2 of House Legislative Initiative 10-3, HS1, HD1 (1997). The following is the article as amended by House Legislative Initiative 10-3, HS1, HD1 (1997).


Section 1. Judicial PowerThe judicial power of the Commonwealth shall be vested in a judiciary of the Northern Mariana Islands which shall include one supreme court and one superior court and such other inferior courts as may be established by law.


Source: Original provision (ratified 1977, effective 1978); amended by House Legislative Initiative 10-3, HS1, HD1 (1997).


Commission Comment: This entire article was replaced by the provisions of Section 2 of House Legislative Initiative 10-3, HS1, HD1 (1997). The following is the article as amended by House Legislative Initiative 10-3, HS1, HD1 (1997). The full text of House Legislative Initiative 10-3, HS1, HD1 (1997) can be found on the Law Revision Commission's website at http://cnmilaw.org. Section 1 of House Legislative Initiative 10-3 contained the following purpose provision which reads as follows:


Section 1. Purpose. The Legislature initiates this proposed amendment because it recognizes that the judicial branch of the Commonwealth Government should be co-equal with and independent of the executive and legislative branches. The current Article IV does not provide constitutional status for the present structure of the courts reorganized pursuant of Public Law 6-25. The Legislature further recognizes that the judicial branch should be established in the Constitution to assure its independence from the executive and legislative branches. 


Section 3 of House Legislative Initiative 10-3 contained the following continuity of judicial matters provision which reads as follows:


Section 3. Continuity of Judicial Matters. Upon the effective date of Article IV, as amended, the existing supreme court, its justices and employees; the existing superior court, its judges and employees; all existing administrative policies of the judicial branch; all existing cases pending in either court; all laws, regulations, and rules affecting the judiciary shall continue to exist and operate as if established pursuant to this Article IV, and shall, unless clearly inconsistent, be read to be consistent with Article IV, as amended. The term of any judge or justice whose term expires prior to the 1999 general election shall be automatically extended to allow that justice or judge to comply with the retention provisions of section 5 of this article IV. Justices or judges serving a term in excess of that which is provided in this Article IV shall be allowed to serve out that term, but shall be subject to the retention provisions of section 5 of this Article IV for such terms as are provided herein. While no new special judges may be appointed upon the effective date of Article IV, as amended, the unexpired term of a special judge appointed and confirmed prior to the effective date of this amendment shall not be affected.


Case Annotations: 1 N.M.I. 22--25.


Section 2. Commonwealth Superior CourtThe Commonwealth superior court shall have original jurisdiction in all cases in equity and at law. The court shall also have original jurisdiction in all criminal actions. The superior court shall have all inherent powers, including the power to issue all writs necessary to the complete exercise of its duties and jurisdiction under this constitution and the laws of the Commonwealth. The superior court shall consist of a presiding judge and at least four associate judges. At least one full- time judge shall be assigned to civil and criminal actions filed in Rota and one in Tinian. The legislature may increase the number of judges when necessary.


Source: Original provision (ratified 1977, effective 1978); amended by Second Const. Conv. Amend. 23 (1985); House Legislative Initiative 10-3, HS1, HD1 (1997).


Case Annotations: Mafnas v. Hefner, 1 N.M.I. 22--25; Gioda v. Saipan Stevedoring Co., Inc., 1 N.M.I. 310--312; Mafnas v. Commonwealth, 2 N.M.I. 248--266.


Section 3. Commonwealth Supreme CourtThe Commonwealth supreme court shall hear appeals from final judgments and orders of the Commonwealth superior court. The supreme court shall have all inherent powers, including the power to issue all writs necessary to the complete exercise of its duties and jurisdiction under this constitution and the laws of the Commonwealth. The supreme court shall consist of a chief justice and at least two associate justices. The Legislature may increase the number of justices when necessary.


Source: Original provision (ratified 1977, effective 1978); amended by Second Const. Conv. Amend. 23 (1985); House Legislative Initiative 10-3, HS1, HD1 (1997).


Case Annotations: Mafnas v. Hefner, 1 N.M.I. 22--25.


Section 4. QualificationsA justice or judge shall be at least thirty-five (35) years of age, a citizen or national of the United States, have resided in the Commonwealth for at least five (5) years before appointment, never have been convicted of a felony or any crime involving moral turpitude, and been a member of the Commonwealth bar for five (5) years.


Source: Original provision (ratified 1977, effective 1978); amended by Second Const. Conv. Amend. 23 (1985); House Legislative Initiative 10-3, HS1, HD1 (1997).


Case Annotations: Mafnas v. Commonwealth, 2 N.M.I. 248--268.


Section 5. Appointment and Term of OfficeA supreme court justice and superior court judge shall initially be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate. Justices shall serve terms of eight (8) years and judges shall serve terms of six (6) years. At the general election immediately before the end of the initial term, the question of whether to retain the justice or judge shall be placed on the ballot, using the following language: "Shall Justice or Judge (insert name of justice or judge) of the (insert name of court) be retained in office? Yes or No." The justice or judge shall be retained if a majority of the votes cast on the question are in the affirmative. Terms following an election to retain shall be eight (8) years for a justice of the supreme court and six (6) years for a judge of the superior court.


Source: Original provision (ratified 1977, effective 1978); amended by House Legislative Initiative 10-3, HS1, HD1 (1997).

 

Section 6. CompensationThe compensation of a justice and a judge shall be provided by law. The salary of a justice or judge may not be decreased during a term of office.


Source: Original provision (ratified 1977, effective 1978); amended by House Legislative Initiative 10-3, HS1, HD1 (1997).


Section 7. ImpeachmentA justice or judge is subject to impeachment as provided in article II, section 8, of this constitution for treason, conviction of a felony, corruption, neglect of duty or conviction of any crime involving moral turpitude.


Source: Original provision (ratified 1977, effective 1978); amended by House Legislative Initiative 10-3, HS1, HD1 (1997).


Section 8. Limitations on Activities of Justices and Judges.
 A full-time justice or judge may not hold another compensated government position or engage in the practice of law. A justice or judge may not make a direct or indirect financial contribution to a political organization or candidate, hold an executive office in a political organization, or participate in a political campaign. A justice or judge may not become a candidate for elective public office without resigning judicial office at least thirty (30) days before declaring his/her candidacy but no less than one hundred eighty (180) days before the election.


Source: Original provision (ratified 1977, effective 1978); amended by House Legislative Initiative 10-3, HS1, HD1 (1997).


Section 9. Rule making and Administration


a) The chief justice of the Commonwealth may propose rules governing civil and criminal procedure, judicial ethics, admission to and governance of the bar of the Commonwealth, and other matters of judicial administration. A proposed rule shall be submitted to the legislature and shall become effective sixty (60) days after submission unless disapproved by a majority of the members of either house of the legislature. 


b) The chief justice shall submit an annual budget for the judiciary to the legislature. 


c) The chief justice shall submit to the people of the Commonwealth an annual report on the state of the judiciary. 


d) The chief justice may designate, as the need arises, an active or former justice or judge of the Commonwealth, of any United State jurisdiction, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau or the Republic of the Marshall Islands to serve as a pro temp justice or judge of the Commonwealth courts.


Source: Original provision (ratified 1977, effective 1978); amended by House Legislative Initiative 10-3, HS1, HD1 (1997).


Section 10. Succession.  When a vacancy occurs in the office of chief justice, the associate justice most senior in commission shall become acting chief justice. When a vacancy occurs in the office of presiding judge, the associate judge most senior in commission shall become acting presiding judge. Such person shall continue in an acting capacity until the governor appoints and the senate confirms a chief justice or presiding judge.


Source: House Legislative Initiative 10-3, HS1, HD1 (1997).


Section 11. Certified Legal Questions.  Whenever a dispute arises between or among Commonwealth officials who are elected by the people or appointed by the governor regarding the exercise of their powers or responsibilities under this constitution or any statute, the parties to the dispute may certify to the supreme court the legal question raised, setting forth the stipulated facts upon which the dispute arises. The supreme court may deny the request to rule on the certified legal question. If the request is accepted, then the ruling of the supreme court shall be binding upon the parties before the court.


Source: House Legislative Initiative 10-3, HS1, HD1 (1997).


Commission Comment: This entire article was replaced by the provisions of Section 2 of House Legislative Initiative 10-3, HS1, HD1 (1997). This article was set forth as amended by House Legislative Initiative 10-3, HS1, HD1 (1997). The full text of House Legislative Initiative 10-3, HS1, HD1 (1997) can be found on the Law Revision Commission's website at http://cnmilaw.org. Section 1 of House Legislative Initiative 10-3 contained the following purpose provision which reads as follows:


Section 1. Purpose. The Legislature initiates this proposed amendment because it recognizes that the judicial branch of the Commonwealth Government should be co-equal with and independent of the executive and legislative branches. The current Article IV does not provide constitutional status for the present structure of the courts reorganized pursuant of Public Law 6-25. The Legislature further recognizes that the judicial branch should be established in the Constitution to assure its independence from the executive and legislative branches.


Section 3 of House Legislative Initiative 10-3 contained the following continuity of judicial matters provision which reads as follows:


Section 3. Continuity of Judicial Matters. Upon the effective date of Article IV, as amended, the existing supreme court, its justices and employees; the existing superior court, its judges and employees; all existing administrative policies of the judicial branch; all existing cases pending in either court; all laws, regulations, and rules affecting the judiciary shall continue to exist and operate as if established pursuant to this Article IV, and shall, unless clearly inconsistent, be read to be consistent with Article IV, as amended. The term of any judge or justice whose term expires prior to the 1999 general election shall be automatically extended to allow that justice or judge to comply with the retention provisions of section 5 of this article IV. Justices or judges serving a term in excess of that which is provided in this Article IV shall be allowed to serve out that term, but shall be subject to the retention provisions of section 5 of this Article IV for such terms as are provided herein. While no new special judges may be appointed upon the effective date of Article IV, as amended, the unexpired term of a special judge appointed and confirmed prior to the effective date of this amendment shall not be affected.