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Thursday, July 25, 2024
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Constitutional Language Should Reflect the Times

Dear Source:
Ms Carol Lotz-Felix is correct about Guam not having a constitution of its own; having failed to accomplish that task on two separate occasions. Effectively, it has the same type of Organic Act that the Virgin Islands are governed under. Guam's Organic Act was enacted in 1950 after the close of the Second World War. This means that only Guam and the Virgin Islands do not have Constitutions of their own. All other US possessions and states do. Guam however, is still active in attempting to create a more independent government. Guam is now attempting to ask Congress to change its status to "Commonwealth" similar to Puerto Rico. This would give that government a more autonomous relationship but still be a possession of the United States. This new autonomy, if approved by Congress, would allow Guamanians to make local governmental decisions with having to ask Congress every time. In contrast, Congress wants Guam to enact its own Constitution thus giving it the autonomy it desires and, in effect, repealing the Guam Organic Act. Matters of status are touchy subjects and must be approached with great caution. It may seem that having more independence is good for a people but the ramifications could be costly in terms of continued monetary relationships. In other words-"don't bite off your nose to spite your face".
Back at home, Virgin Islanders still are governed under the Revised Organic Act of 1954 which has been altered and sections repealed several times over the years by Congress mostly upon request of the Virgin Islands government in order to deal with local matters. Originally adopted in 1936, the Organic Act was a method under which Congress could give the people of the Virgin Islands the right of sovereignty but still be "owned" by the United States. When the language of any act that governs a people is not substantially changed to reflect modern times, then it should be the right of the governed to alter the language or rid ourselves of it. Such is the case now, as the Constitutional Delegates attempt to write a Constitution to rid ourselves of the archaic Organic Act. The key word is "modern". With the advent of technology and with the knowledge of well over 300 years of democracy, any Constitution written now would have to reflect the age we live in and the realities of the world we live in. The delegates have an opportunity to "start fresh" and devise a document that not only keeps in mind the needs of the twenty-first century but can also contain language that recognizes and eliminates the "sins of the past". Constitutional language must target the very laws that we now live under (Organic Act, many VI statutes) as being archaic so that we can move on to a better future. Modern constitutions are very lengthy and far wordier than original constitutions. Of course the wording of the Constitution of the United States has never been altered but the Constitution itself has been amended 27 times. States that were admitted to the Union most recently had the opportunity to look at constitutions of other states and wrote language that more closely reflected modern times and the needs of the people. These constitutions tended to be very exacting and very long. The idea was to decide on language that was not contestable and thus reducing the need to amend it later. Most states have dramatically revised or even re-written their constitutions. The result is that no state has amended a constitution in over 12 years.
As the delegates ponder what language must be included in the Virgin Islands Constitution, it would be wise to look at history so that our Constitution will be a model that truly reflects the times and needs and desires of the people.

Paul Devine
St. John

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