Guam has held two constitutional conventions. The first met from 1969-1970 and essentially made a list of suggestions to improve the Organic Act of Guam. In 1976, the U.S. Congress passed an act authorizing Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands to hold constitutional conventions. American Samoa passed a constitution in the 1960s without asking for permission. The authority to call a Guam constitutional convention rests with the Guam Legislature. Within a year of this act, a convention was called and a year later, Guam had a constitution approved by the U.S. Congress. In 1978, due to a number of factors, the voters of Guam refused to approve this document. Part of the rejection was a fear that adopting a constitution would change Guam’s political status. A Guam Constitution would not change political status, but it would allow Guam to have more autonomy to structure its internal government. The U.S. Virgin Islands has tried at least five times to get a draft approved by Congress. Guam was successful on the first try.
Anyone can pull up and read the Guam draft constitution on Guampedia. I believe that the draft approved by Congress is still valid, there does not appear to be a sunset clause on it. Therefore, I believe that the voters of Guam can still approve this document. If the Legislature wanted, the draft could be resubmitted to the voters with a 10-year implementation time frame. Using a form of selective incorporation, the Legislature could then activate provisions that are ready for implementation. As I will point out in future columns, there are parts of the draft constitution that Guam might want to amend before they are implemented.
The most important point to amend is the amendment process in Article XIII of the draft. Under this provision, amendments may be proposed by the Legislature or by a constitutional convention approved by an initiative. The real issue is approving amendments. Under the current draft constitution, amendments require a two-thirds approval of all registered voters. This isn’t two-thirds of voters in an election, this is two-thirds of all voters whether they voted in the election or not. I believe this can be readily corrected through a number of basic methods. But amending the amendment clause will be critical to the long-term success of the constitution.
If we did approve the draft constitution with a 10-year time frame to phase it in, Guam could then enter into a very healthy discussion on the structure and form of the internal government. Right now if Guam wants to make fundamental changes to the local government, we often have to go to the U.S. Congress. We do have some flexibility. For example, we can control the number of senators in the legislature. We can also elect or appoint the attorney general. The draft constitution called for an appointed attorney general and an elected two-term-limit prosecutor. Please read the draft constitution and follow along with the discussion in the next few weeks.
Ron McNinch teaches at the University of Guam School of Business and Public Administration.