SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands — There’s a part of America that it seems only known to, say, federal agents and elite golfers. This is thanks to its unusual history as the place where disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff illegally endeavored to block Congress from imposing the federal minimum wage for its workers and its championship golf courses. Welcome to Saipan — the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands in the western Pacific Ocean, which has been a U.S. commonwealth since 1978.
A decade ago, Abramoff’s shenanigans briefly brought the chain of islands into national consciousness, but this month, it’s in the news again as the location of a new U.S. Courthouse that broke ground this week. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands, joined by the Marianas Management Corporation (MMC), are beginning construction for the new courthouse as part of a 20-year lease construct arrangement between the federal government and MMC.
“We are very excited to see construction beginning for this new courthouse,” said GSA’s Acting Pacific Rim Regional Administrator Dan Brown in a statement. “Today’s event is a major step forward in fulfilling the judiciary’s requirement for a new courthouse in Saipan. The new facility will address long-standing security and space needs on the island. Through a lease arrangement, the Marianas Management Corporation is providing a modern facility with functional space and innovative technology to meet the operational requirements of the U.S. District Court in the Northern Mariana Islands.”
The 35,696-square-foot, three-story courthouse will accommodate the U.S. District Court of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. Probation Office, the U.S. Marshals Service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office as well as the Federal Protective Service. It will be comprised of a single courtroom, judges’ chambers for two, a jury assembly room and tenant office space.
Established by an act of Congress in 1977 (and operational in January 1978), the District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands has the same jurisdiction to hear federal cases as U.S. District Courts. Likewise, appeals are taken to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Since 1989, the District Court has convened in the Horiguchi Building on the island of Saipan. The new courthouse is scheduled for completion in summer 2019.
“While we have a wonderful landlord who remains responsive to all our requests, the District Court’s needs have outgrown the Horiguchi Building,” said Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona, U.S. District Court of the Northern Mariana Islands in a statement. “We look forward to the new courthouse that will meet modern federal judicial program standards as well as meet our security requirements.”
The courthouse’s design features include innovative lighting and landscaping motifs, energy-efficient fixtures and wastewater technologies in an effort to allay costs and conserve resources. The lease from MMC will cost approximately $2.4 million annually.
“We are thrilled to break ground. It is such an important milestone,” said Manglona in a statement. “We look forward to the new courthouse that will meet modern federal judicial standards and security requirements.”