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Florida law school to help U.S. Virgin Islands draft constitution

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Delegates to the U.S. Virgin Islands Constitutional Convention meeting on St. Croix unanimously selected Stetson University College of Law to assist them in drafting a constitution for the island colony after Professor Dorthea Beane made a pro bono offer of free assistance to the delegates recently.


After a tardy start caused by a contentious electoral board dispute over delegate selection, the U.S. territory's fifth attempt to adopt a constitution got underway.  Previous attempts in 1965, 1972, 1978 and 1980 to form a constitution stalled over the lack of voting rights in federal elections.


Stetson University College of Law is Florida's oldest law school and has recently formed a Center for Caribbean Law and Policy.  Stetson also hosted the American and Caribbean Initiative Legal Clinic in November in cooperation with law schools in the Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica.


Delegate Francis Jackson helped recruit the school and will chair an ad hoc committee for the Constitutional Convention to develop a work plan for drafting the constitution. 


The Constitutional Convention's thirty elected delegates meet periodically as whole and individually do committee work between sessions.  The next full meeting is scheduled for mid-February.


Convention President Gerard Luz James II has also written to the U. S. Department of Interior, that oversees territorial possessions of the United States, for assistance with the process of writing a constitution for the islands.


The delegates have also requested a $3.2 million budget from the legislature and have debated the deadline for the submission of a draft constitution.  Some of the delegates want to vote on the matter in the 2008 elections while others do not want to be captive to an artificial timeline and favor a special election to approve the document.  Ultimately, Congress must approve the constitution before it becomes official.


The U.S. Virgin Islands were purchased from Denmark during World War I for $25 million and are under exclusive control of Congress with administration oversight from the Department of Interior.


The colonial status of the Virgin Islands has been recognized by the United Nations and the territory is one of 17 "Non Self-Governing Territories" subject to Article 73 of the U.N. Charter.  The U.N. Charter binds the United States, "to take due account the political aspirations of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions.



Thirteenth in a series on 21st Century American Colonies that explore the acquisition, control, and status of modern-day colonies of the United States.  Although the colonies are now called "unincorporated territories" the second-class nature of U.S. citizenship of residents of the territories continues to define the colonial status.  Permission granted to reprint.


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Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about politics, law, nutrition, ethics, and music. Richardson is also a political consultant.

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