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U.S. Supreme Court

Granville-Smith v. Granville-Smith, 349 U.S. 1 (1955)

Granville-Smith v. Granville-Smith

No. 261

Argued February 3, 1955

Decided April 11, 1955

349 U.S. 1


By the Organic Act of the Virgin Islands, Congress delegated to their Legislative Assembly authority to enact laws on subjects "of local application." The Legislative Assembly enacted a divorce law, § 9(a) of which provides that, if the plaintiff has been continuously within the district for six weeks and the defendant has been personally served or enters a general appearance, the District Court of the Virgin Islands shall have jurisdiction "without further reference to domicile."

Held: Section 9(a) exceeds the power of the Legislative Assembly, and hence the District Court of the Virgin Islands has no jurisdiction to grant a divorce on a mere showing of continuous presence of the plaintiff in the Virgin Islands for six weeks and entry by the defendant of a general appearance and consent to a default decree. Pp. 349 U. S. 2-16.

(a) The Organic Acts of Alaska and Hawaii limit divorce jurisdiction to cases where the plaintiffs have resided in the territory for at least two years, and it is not reasonable to believe that Congress was less concerned with the scope of divorce jurisdiction in the Virgin Islands, an unincorporated territory, or that it intended to grant them unrestricted freedom in the field of divorce legislation. P. 349 U. S. 9.

(b) The term "local application" in the Organic Act of the Virgin Islands implies limitation to subjects having relevant ties within the territory, to laws growing out of the needs of the Islands and governing relations within them. P. 349 U. S. 10. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 349 U. S. 2

(c) In the light of its legislative history, it is obvious that § 9(a) of the Virgin Islands divorce law was not concerned with the needs and interests of the local population, but was passed for the purpose of encouraging persons from other jurisdictions to visit the Virgin Islands to obtain divorces. Pp. 349 U. S. 10-16.

(d) In the circumstances, it cannot be concluded that, if Congress had consciously been asked to give the Virgin Islands Legislative Assembly power to do what no State has ever attempted, it would have done so. P. 349 U. S. 16.

214 F.2d 820, affirmed.

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