United States Virgin Islands Delegate Stacey E. Plaskett (D) has introduced legislation to adopt the Revised Organic Act of the Virgin Islands and its amendments as the Constitution of the Virgin Islands, a bill now known as HR 3026. The territory is one of two US unincorporated territories to lack a constitution.
Plaskett stated: “I am pleased to introduce legislation to adopt the Revised Organic Act of the Virgin Islands and its amendments as the constitution of the Virgin Islands of the United States. My legislation provides for the adoption of the Revised Organic Act, as it has been approved by Congress, signed into law, and amended as the constitution of our territory. While the Revised Organic Act presently serves as the main governing document of the Virgin Islands, we are unable to enact changes on a territorial level. If the Revised Organic Act and its amendments are adopted as the constitution by federal law, it would then free the Virgin Islands to make further amendments without congressional engagement or approval. As such, my legislation includes an amendment process to allow the Virgin Islands to revise the constitution once adopted.”
The US Virgin Islands have held five constitutional conventions—two locally authorized in 1964 and 1971 and three authorized by Public Law 94-584 (on October 21, 1976), in 1978, 1980, and 2007-2010. In May 2020, the Virgin Islands Legislature passed Bill 33-0292, which included a referendum on the general election ballot on calling a constitutional convention to adopt the Revised Organic Act of 1954 as the local constitution. This proposal was approved by 72% of people voting on this measure.
“There is a clear public preference for the adoption of a constitution for the Virgin Islands. My legislation enables a base constitution to be enacted (one that we have been practicably using for many years) and a local process for self-determination, and a level of autonomy in our constitutional maturation. My legislation provides three avenues to amend the constitution; through the Legislature of the Virgin Islands, ballot initiatives proposed by voters, or a constitutional convention,” Plaskett added.
Plaskett has constituted with and sought advice from many national legal scholars, as well as local US Virgin Islands scholars, including Gerard Emanuel, who stated: “Adopting the Revised Organic Act and its amendments as the first draft of a local constitution for the USVI is a wise decision for two dispositive reasons: (1)We have failed to approve every constitutional draft since 1977, and (2) based on the increasing diversity of our population, almost anything placed in a constitution will be opposed by some segment of the voters. A simple solution is the following: After Congress approves the ROA and its amendments as a template, permit voters to vote “Yes” for the articles they want adopted and “No” for the ones they do not want. If this becomes the case, we would approve a document that includes only the articles that receive the most yes votes. This is the normal procedure for approving amendments, but it can work for voting on the entire document.”
Dr. Malik Sekou also commended the legislation indicating his support. “I support your bill HR 3026 to adopt the Revised Organic Act of 1954 (Amended). As I have suggested to Senate President Novelle Francis and other stakeholders, the current commemoration of the 175th Anniversary of our ancestors’ emancipation would be meaningful if we take a positive step forward to successfully ratify a new constitution…It is now appropriate that your Office ensure that we make a positive step forward. Congress ought to provide funding to allow public awareness campaigns to ensure that all residents and even the diaspora become informed of this issue after HR 3026 is successfully passed by Congress. We make history when we make wise decisions,” Sekou said.
The bill also has the support of Governor Albert Bryan Jr. (D), who said that the “ability for Virgin Islanders to establish and amend our own governing document without petitioning the Congress is long overdue and paramount to our right to self-determination.”
The delegate added that she looks forward to having the bill adopted “as the Constitution of the Virgin Islands, moving through the legislative process, including votes on the House Floor and the Senate and transmission to the President to be signed into law. I am hoping for the support of Virgin Islands residents and our legislature to advocate on its behalf and for members of our diaspora living in the mainland to lobby their current congressional and Senate representatives for support.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the US Virgin Islands as the only territory to lack a constitution when Guam also lacks one. We regret the error.