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Modernizing a Bill of Rights


Dear Source:
The new Constitution must contain certain basic rights. As it is now, the Organic Act cites the US Constitution and all the basic rights contained there, as being valid in the Virgin Islands. By the Supremacy Laws of the US, no state or territorial Constitution may trump or differ greatly from that document. However, all states have Constitutions and many state Constitutions have language that is particular to the people who reside in that state. The Virgin Islands must write language within its Constitution regarding basic rights provided the language passes US Constitutional muster.
Rights, such as not allowing a law which would retroactively cause a person to be, for example, punished for something that was not illegal at the time of commission cannot be made. This is called an ex post facto law. Freedom of religion, speech, assembly and the press are standard but the Virgin Islands could expound upon these basic rights if it chose to. For example, it could add freedom to access government and instead of the US language that allows freedom of assembly to redress grievances, the VI Constitution could go further to say that redress could include matters of law. A change like that would give citizens the right to take issue on any law passed or proposed as constitutionally unviable. Because we live in an electronic age, the right of unlawful seizures could include electronic surveillance upon a person as being unlawful and there could be language that allows a course of action against the government for doing it. The right of equal protection for all persons regardless of ancestry, color or even sexual preference and political beliefs could be included which goes beyond US constitutional language.
We could and should include language that requires the government to allow its people the right of a clean and healthful environment and a sustainable environment. Those issues were not included in the US Constitution because they were not issues when it was written. Being in the 21st century allows us to add those issues as rights of the people. Freedom of information, animal protection and beefed-up language on victims of crime could become constitutional language as well.
Basic freedoms according to the US Constitution are good but the VI has the opportunity to "modernize" its constitution to bring it in line with the realities of our world as it is today.
Even though we may assume that the US Constitution is all-protecting, we still have the opportunity to create language that would enhance the basic rights of Virgin Islanders by adding necessary provisions. A Constitution for the Virgin Islands which creates a Bill of Rights based upon local desires, would give local courts the basis for better making local constitutional decisions without having to rely on federal intervention because the Organic Act may require such intervention. Basic rights are usually the issues that Supreme Courts deal with in matters of law. Effectively, we would be able to make our own lawful decisions by the courts, based on our own Constitution and not the US Constitution.
The Constitutional Convention will be dealing with these issues and they need your input to make it become a reality. Please attend public hearings on this and other issues that are important to our future.

Paul Devine
St. John

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