The Revised Organic Act of 1954 was an improvement in some ways and a few steps backward in others when compared with the 1936 Organic Act. It affected the Legislative branch by providing at least two improvements. One was designed to include more of the people in the political process, who were left out in the previous Organic Act, and the other was designed to unite the people of the entire territory by creating one legislative body for the two political districts.
First, the removal of the English literacy requirement for voting, allowed more members of the Hispanic/Latino community to vote and run for a seat in the Legislature. This provided the basis for increased political participation by that important segment of the population, which had heretofore been marginalized.
Second, the Act abolished the Municipal Councils in the districts of St. Thomas/St. John and St. Croix, and created a single legislative body for the entire territory called the Legislature of the Virgin Islands. This eliminated insular district legislation, and required that all laws passed now had to be applicable to the entire territory. The members of this body were to hold official sessions only on St. Thomas. This increased the likelihood that some of the best minds in both districts would meet and work together on behalf of all of the people, instead of working separately, merely for those in their respective districts.
However, the Revised Organic Act had other impacts, which in hindsight may have created more division than unity, or which were not an improvement over the 1936 Organic Act. First, the abolition of the Municipal Councils eliminated the opportunity for each district to be able to enact legislation that specifically addressed the unique needs existing there. Moreover, legislators from the St. Croix District, who the voters in the St. Thomas/St. John District could not elect, now could pass laws for the St. Thomas/St. John District without having to be held accountable to the voters there.
Additionally, the St. Croix District was placed at a numerical disadvantage in the Legislature, since the St. Thomas/St. John District could elect six district members, while the St Croix District could only elect five. Under the 1936 Act, the St. Thomas/St. John Council had seven members, while the St. Croix Council had nine members. I have never seen an explanation for providing less legislators for the St. Croix district, than for the St. Thomas/St. John District in the 1954 Act.. Additionally, since the Organic Act kept St. Thomas as the capital, legislators from St. Croix had to travel there for all sessions. This virtually eliminated the St. Croix community from gaining access to the sessions and to their representatives when important matters were being addressed that concerned their interests.
The Revised Organic also retained two colonial items that were in the 1936 Act. First the president could still veto all bills considered by the Legislature, and second, the Congress could annul any law passed by the Legislature.
In sum, the Revised Organic Act was an improvement for the Legislative branch, since it included more persons in the political process and unified legislation in the territory, but because it reduced district autonomy by the abolition of the Municipal Councils, and created less representatives for St. Croix than for the St. Thomas/St. John District, it could also be seen as several political steps backward, particularly for the district of St. Croix.
Editor's note: Gerard Emanuel is an educator and a part-time instructor on UVI's St. Croix campus. He is also a member of the ad hoc committee established by the university to encourage examination of the Act.
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