On June 22, 1936 the United States Congress passed the Organic Act of 1936. Under the provisions of this
Act, a true system of civil government was set forth for the Islands. The two Colonial Councils, now Municipal Councils with the exclusion of the appointed members, remained, and could still combine to form a Legislative Assembly. They were given legislative powers to pass laws and to override the governor’s veto by two-thirds vote, although in this event, final veto power went to the President of the United States. The Legislative Assembly, which could convene upon passage of resolutions by both Councils or on the call of the governor, had the authority to enact legislation for the entire Virgin Islands. To be eligible for membership in a Municipal Council, a candidate had to be at least twenty-five years of age, a qualified voter in the municipality in which he sought election, and be a resident of that municipality for not less than three years preceding the date of election.
The Organic Act of 1936 was a major sign of victory for native Virgin Islanders who wanted a greater measure of self-government. Of this act, the greatest features include the granting of universal suffrage and permanent removal of property and income qualifications for voting. This took political control of the Islands from the upper class and “landed gentry” and placed it squarely in the hands of the thousands of working and lower class citizens in the Virgin Islands. Thus, the face of the legislative branch was also changed. Conservative legislators preferring the status quo were replaced by more liberal, sometimes even radical ones who were more dedicated to bringing about social and economic changes, better working conditions, etc. for the working man or the “grass root.”
Despite the apparent victories, however, there were still items left to be desired in the new governmental system. Although Councils were empowered to enact legislation and override the governor’s veto, the Congress of the United States still reserved the power to annul any and all legislation enacted by the Virgin Islands government. The President of the United States retained final veto power in the case of a legislative override of the governor’s veto. In addition, the Legislative Assembly, the body that passed laws for the entire territory, was the representative of unified government. It did not meet with the frequency that would have been desirable and was only empowered to act on bills proposed by the governor or by both the separate Councils. In other words, the Legislative Assembly was not capable of independent action. It can be said therefore, that there was still no viable working instrument to enact legislation for the entire Virgin Islands and that a unified system of government was still woefully lacking. By this point, it was more than high time that one was placed into effect.
In 1954, this unified legislative system was put into effect when the United States Congress passed the Revised Organic Act of 1954. Among other things, this act created a unicameral body called the Legislature of the Virgin Islands in which all legislative power was vested. For the first time since 1863, the government of the Virgin Islands was fused into one entity. A relatively equal balance of power between the executive and legislative branches was finally attained. In addition, equal representation from St. Thomas and St. Croix was achieved.
The Legislature created by the aforementioned act, unicameral, consisted of eleven members: three from the District of St. Croix; three from the District of St. Thomas; one from the District of St. John; and four At- Large, serving all three islands.
The At-Large concept is utilized solely for the purpose of embodying the unified interest and to reduce inter-island deadlocks.
In 1966, the Legislature under-went further change when the United States Congress and the Virgin Islands Legislature passed a resolution. The number of seats was increased from 11 to 15 and the distribution changed
to the following: seven from the District of St. Thomas - St. John; seven from the District of St. Croix; and one At-Large who must be a resident of St. John. With that move, the Legislature of the Virgin Islands had finally evolved into its present form. It is now a body with the rights and powers enjoyed by most state legislatures of the Union. With the century-long development of the legislative branch from Colonial Assembly to Virgin Islands Legislature, we see an important part of a people’s struggle for self-government.