Home Commentary Open forum TERRITORY RESIDENTS LACK FULL U.S. CITIZEN RIGHTS

TERRITORY RESIDENTS LACK FULL U.S. CITIZEN RIGHTS

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Dear Source,
The opinion piece, 'No Representation Without Taxation', authored by Jack M. Monsanto of Hilton Head, S.C., suggests that the American Revolutionary War was fought because the American colonists resented paying taxes to Great Britain without being represented in the British Parliament. The piece among other things continues stating that Virgin Islanders are not second-class citizens, but indeed are privileged citizens who have "all the rights of citizenship without having to pay federal income tax[es]." The argument presented was based solely on paying federal taxes, a basis too simplistic and inadequate for such an important issue. My understanding of American history, the U.S. Constitution and the political precedents surrounding the status of the Virgin Islands and the inhabitants who reside there is vastly different from what Mr. Monsanto maintains.
In American history classes, I learned that the colonists resented Great Britain for a number of reasons. Although "taxation without representation" may be listed as one of the reasons, it was not the most important, nor was it the most significant. Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, signed by representatives from the 13 colonies, in only one instance mentions that Great Britain imposed taxes without the consent of the colonies. The declaration, however, speaks volumes of the other injuries, usurpations and tyrannies that were committed against the colonies.
Mr. Monsanto's piece is derelict by failing to point out that inability of the American citizens of the Virgin Islands to vote in federal elections has nothing to do with federal taxes. Arguments that attempt to associate federal income taxes and federal elections should be seen as specious. Article II section 1 and Amendment XII of the Constitution detail the manner in which the president and vice president are elected. The relevant parts read: "Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors … The electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President."
The legislatures of the states and only the legislatures of the states determine the manner in which electors for president and vice president are selected. Nowhere is there mention of federal income taxes being tied to this selection.
States are the entities that are constitutionally charged with the power to appoint electors for president and vice president. The states in turn have chosen to allow the citizen residents of their borders to vote to choose electors for their desired presidential candidates. Short of a constitutional amendment such as that (Amendment XXIII) empowering the District of Columbia to select presidential electors, neither the U.S. Congress, the president, nor the judiciary may confer in any entity the ability to vote for president. The matter is completely out of the hands of the federal government and any remedy which a branch of the federal government may impose.
Efforts by Virgin Islanders to receive full citizenship rights should not be viewed as an attempt by them to get something without paying their full share. It was Congress that made the deliberate decision to direct income taxes collected in the Virgin Islands to the treasury of the Virgin Islands. The taxes V.I. residents pay are in a sense actually levied by the sovereign power of Congress. Whereas the organic laws of states, their constitutions (which give them the power to levy taxes), derive their power from a sovereign people, the organic law of the Virgin Islands is the (Revised) Organic Act, an act of Congress that was promulgated by that body and remains subject only to the plenary whims of that body. Furthermore, these whims, according to a couple of early-last-century decisions commonly known as the Insular Cases, do not even require Congress to guarantee full constitutional rights to territorial residents.
An ironic twist to what is alleged in Mr. Monsanto's piece is that one of these Insular Cases dealt specifically with the Congress imposing a high discriminatory federal tax on Puerto Rican goods. Puerto Rico at the time (1901) of course had no voting representation in Congress and could not vote to elect its governor. Puerto Ricans were also not given U.S. citizenship or guaranteed constitutional rights even though they were subject to federal taxes. The federal government fully controlled the island. Congress, pursuant to the make needful rules and regulations language of the Constitution, can exercise near absolute power over territories and territorial residents. Territorial residents are citizens of a lower class.
Mark Walters
Boston, Mass.

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