U.S. Court Of Appeals Denies CNMI Indigenous Group's Bid To Intervene In Election Case

Northern Marianas Descent Corp. effort to reverse ruling fails

By Ferdie De La Torre

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, March 1, 2017) – The U.S. Court of Appeals denied yesterday an indigenous group’s bid to intervene in a case that seeks to reverse an earlier federal court ruling that voters who are not of Northern Marianas descent must have the opportunity to vote on any initiative to amend Article 12.

Appeals court judges denied the Northern Marianas Descent Corp.’s petition as moot.

Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas and judges Consuelo M. Callahan and Mary H. Murgia issued the order.

The judges awarded John H. Davis Jr. attorney’s fees and costs amounting to $16,237.

The Circuit judges ordered the Commonwealth Election Commission and its commissioners to pay the sum, $16,237, to Davis’ lawyer, Jeanne H. Rayphand.

In December 2016, the Ninth Circuit judges affirmed U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona’s landmark decision in 2014.

In a 51-page decision issued in May 2014, Manglona ruled that “Northern Marianas descent”—as defined in Section 4 of Article 12 of the CNMI Constitution—is a racial classification. Under federal law, it may not serve as the basis for preventing otherwise qualified voters from voting on proposed amendments to Article 12, she said.

“Even if Northern Marianas descent were not a racial classification, it would be unconstitutional to deny non-NMDs the right to vote on Article 12 initiatives because the restriction is not narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state purpose,” Manglona had said.

Manglona issued the ruling in favor of Davis, a registered voter in the CNMI who sued the Commonwealth Election Commission, its chairperson and executive director, and then-CNMI governor Eloy S. Inos, so he could vote on any initiative to amend Article 12.

Article 12 restricts landownership in the CNMI to persons of NMD. Article 18 Section 5(c) prohibits qualified voters who are not NMDs from voting on Article 12 initiatives.

CEC and co-defendants, through the Office of the Attorney General, appealed Manglona’s ruling to the Ninth Circuit.

NMDC, headed by the lieutenant governor’s chief of staff, John D. Gonzales, filed petitions to intervene in Davis’ lawsuit and seek a rehearing en back or by the full Ninth Circuit.

The NMDC stated that in an effort to present their profound reactions to this issue, NMDC members consider that it is vitally important to inform the government about this compelling issue and seek its support.

NMDC noted the “lack of action” by the Attorney General’s Office, which decided not to challenge the Ninth Circuit ruling.

At the Ninth Circuit hearing, assistant attorney general Charles Edmond Brasington argued for CEC and co-defendants. Rayphand argued for Davis. Attorney Joseph Horey argued for the NMDC.

Saipan Tribune
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