Date: May 4, 2023
Title: The Great Debate
Sponsor: The Elections System of the Virgin Islands
URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9Xk_oNOkCs (Note: pro & con part of the debate ends at ~ 52 minutes; the remaining approximately ~40 minutes was allocated to Q&A.
Format: Pro & Con Debate
Debate Question: “The Virgin Islands needs to ratify a constitution before defining its continued relationship with the United States of America.”
Debators & Facilitator:
- Former Senator Janette Millin Young, Facilitator
- For: Attorney Michael Joseph
- For: Alex Johnson
- Against: Attorney Devin Carrington
- Against: Beryl Todman
J.H. Snider Comment: This debate was sponsored, orchestrated, and judged by USVI government officials who framed the debate exactly how USVI’s legislature has. Senator Donna Frett-Gregory, the president of USVI’s legislature and the person responsible for pushing it through the legislature, was in attendance, and it was a moderated by a former senator.
I believe the debate put the cart before the horse. For more than 150 years Congress has mandated that any U.S. territory that wants a constitution must do so by first creating a genuinely independent constitutional convention. The fundamental question to address, then, is not the question the legislature wants the public to ask: should USVI voters ratify the existing organic act (and thus give the legislature monopoly gatekeeping power over future amendment)? A better question for the people of USVI to ask would be: why has the federal government required its territorial legislatures to convene a genuinely independent constitutional convention when a territorial legislature wants to convene its own constitution? (Hint: the answer is that a legislature has a conflict of interest when designing its own constitutional powers. That is why a new constitution must not only be ratified but also proposed by a body independent of the legislature.)
Senator Donna Frett-Gregory issued the following statement about the debate:
Is it time for the Virgin Islands to establish its own constitution or change its status (such as independent, U.S. state, or commonwealth)?
“The Great Debate,” hosted last night by the Elections Systems of the Virgin Islands, posed this excellent question.
Kudos to Moderator former Senator Janette Millin Young for facilitating a lively discussion and to the debate team leads Attorneys Michael Joseph and Devin Carrington for their well-thought-out points that left those in the room with much to consider.
By the end of the debate, judges selected the winning team as the defense who argued in favor of self-determination, but the crowd appeared to be evenly split between adopting a constitution or changing our status.
The 34th Legislature enacted Bill No. 34-0153, Act No. 8681, establishing the 6th Constitutional Convention.
Many countries have taken hundreds of years to determine their political status and a constitution. The USVI is no exception. It is time now that we give serious thought towards determining our status.
What are your thoughts?
Event PR: The Elections System issued both a press release and social media posts to promote the event (see below).