District judge hears complaint against revisional Constitutional Convention
Published: October 4, 2012
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ST. CROIX - U.S. District Judge Wilma Lewis heard arguments Wednesday afternoon about a complaint filed by two Fifth Constitutional Convention delegates against the convention, the 29th Legislature and Gov. John deJongh Jr.
The plaintiffs in the case, Adelbert Bryan and Mary Moorhead, have requested that a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction be granted barring the Fifth Revision Constitution Convention from proceeding to revise, submit new language or any other action relative to the drafting of the proposed constitution.
They also are seeking a declaratory judgement from the court that Act 7386, creating the Fifth Revision Constitutional Convention, is in violation of federal law and is unconstitutional and requesting permanent injunctive relief precluding any action by the Fifth Revision Constitutional Convention.
Act 7386 requires the revision of the draft constitution by the original 30 elected delegates and an additional five-member legal team tasked with making all of the revisions for the delegates.
The issue of the legal team is central to Bryan and Moorhead's complaint.
The lawsuit was filed Friday, and on Wednesday, Attorney Yohanna Manning filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the convention as a whole after the executive committee voted to reject the mandates of Act 7386. Manning argued that the convention supports the original complaint made by Bryan and Moorhead and further added that they had been acting under the original Act that created the convention and see the legislation creating the revision convention as conflicting with the federal and local laws already enacted.
Halfway through the hearing, Bryan said he and Moorhead had reconsidered their position and made an oral motion to dismiss deJongh from the case.
Earlier in the hearing, Assistant Attorney General Erica Scott told the court that the government objects to the convention body joining the suit because they have no standing and are not able to sue or be sued. She said it was unclear what interest they were seeking to protect as parties to the suit.
Lewis reserved her ruling on allowing the convention to intervene in the case.
The judge then heard arguments for and against the temporary restraining order.
Bryan argued that creating the revision convention through Act 7386 is a conflict and is unconstitutional because it is pre-empted by federal law.
Addressing the issue of the five-member legal team stipulated by the act, Bryan and Manning both argued that Congress urging the convention to reconvene was a directive and that it did not include any entities other than the original delegates taking action.
The revision law gives the Fifth Revision Constitutional Convention until the end of October to finish the draft. If the convention fails to do so, Act 7386 stipulates that the task of creating a revised Constitutional draft would then fall to the Senate. Bryan said the Legislature had not appropriated any funds and to date the convention has not reconvened.
Senate President Ronald Russell represented the Legislature in a "limited capacity" and said the case was a simple pre-emption issue. He said the delegates do not have standing to bring their complaint, and the convention is precluded from filing suit. The only issue to be decided by the judge is the pre-emption issue, because all of the other complaints have no merit and speak to the content of the legislation, Russell argued.
In the seven-page complaint, the plaintiffs allege that Public Law 94-584 and its amended version authorizes only a constitutional convention to revise the proposed constitution and does not give the territory the authority to create a body that is not a constitutional convention to draft or revise a constitution and propose it.
Russell argued that the legal team will eliminate any legal issues that may come up and will help the process move along faster to ensure the delegates meet their deadline, the end of the month.
Lawrence Sewer, acting president of the convention, said Monday that the executive committee has been meeting via teleconference with the convention's legal consultants to discuss the federal concerns with the delegation's draft.
"We are still working on the document," Sewer said.
Bryan said he has not received any notice from or about any meetings of the convention since it has gone into recess.
At the close of the arguments, Lewis said she will take the matter under advisement and will issue a decision promptly.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.