Federal Judge Rules Self-Determination Plebiscite In Guam Can't Be Limited To 'Native Inhabitants'

'Race-based restrictions on voting rights' declared unconstitutional

By Jasmine Stole and Jerick Sablan

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, March 8, 2017) – The law limiting Guam’s self-determination plebiscite to people considered native inhabitants is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

The plebiscite law imposes race-based restrictions on voting rights of non-native inhabitants, which is against the 15th Amendment, Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood wrote in her 26-page decision.

“The U.S. Constitution does not permit for the government to exclude otherwise qualified voters in participating in an election where public issues are decided simply because those otherwise qualified voters do not have the correct ancestry or bloodline,” Tydingco-Gatewood wrote.

Plaintiff Arnold "Dave" Davis is a white, non-Chamorro resident of Guam. He applied to vote in the plebiscite but was denied, so he sued the Guam Election Commission and others in the government in 2011.

The political status plebiscite is a non-binding vote posing three options to voters about their preferred future political status with the U.S. Eligible voters can choose independence, free association or statehood for Guam.

The law states eligible voters are native inhabitants, defined as people who became U.S. citizens on Guam by the Organic Act, and their descendants.

The government of Guam argued the law isn't race-based, but the chief judge said the argument was unpersuasive.

“The court recognizes the long history of colonization of this island and its people, and the desire of those colonized to have their right to self-determination,” the judge wrote. “However, the court must also recognize the right of others who have made Guam their home.”

The 14th Amendment and the 15th Amendment were clearly violated in this case, the judge stated.

“We are pleased at the decision. Mr. Davis has long maintained that the plebiscite violated the law,” J. Christian Adams, Davis' attorney, wrote in an email. “All of the justifications readers of this paper have heard over the years were rejected.”

'Disappointed with ruling'

Gov. Eddie Calvo was deeply disappointed with the ruling, he said in a statement.

"The United States categorized our relationship as a territory, and by doing so recognized that the native inhabitants of Guam have the right to one day exercise our collective self-determination through a decolonization process," Calvo said.

Calvo proposed holding a plebiscite for all residents and including boxes to distinguish if they are a native inhabitants or non-native inhabitant.

Calvo also pointed out that the federal government gave Guam $300,000 for the education process for a plebiscite vote.

"And then the District Court says we can’t have a vote specifically for the native inhabitants of this land. At this point, whatever legal remedies may be available, including an appeal, we must move forward," he said.

Inherent racism

Victoria Leon Guerrero, co-chair of the Commission on Decolonization’s Independence for Guam Task Force, also said she’s disappointed. She said she felt attorney Julian James Aguon made a strong case to the court about Guam’s native inhabitants having a right to self-determination.

The court focusing on the vote being race-based discrimination loses sight that it’s not a general election, but a special election intended to extend a right to a specific group of people whose rights were taken from them through colonization, Leon Guerrero said.

“A genuine act of decolonization should involve the decision of those who were colonized, not those who have come to the island because of its colonization,” she said.

Davis saying the native inhabitants making this decision is racist loses sight of the inherent racism involved in colonizing an entire group of people, she said.

“Guam’s colonization and continued colonization was based on race from the beginning. The true and genuine discrimination has been towards the people of Guam who have been denied the basic human right of sovereignty,” Leon Guerrero said.

She said the task force will continue to educate the community, because the decision doesn’t prevent decolonization from happening.

“For us, the most important thing is for our island to be fully informed about the political status options that are available to us in the future and, with that information, actually choose something better for Guam,” she said.

'Colonized federal judge'

Joe Garrido, the chairman of the commission’s Free Association Task Force, said he expected the ruling from “a colonized federal judge.”

“She’s not working for the Chamorro people or for the people here. She’s working for the government who is colonizing Guam,” he said.

Garrido said the issue should have been argued in international court.

He said the racism isn't coming from the locals, but from Davis, who opposes the idea that natives should be allowed to choose their political future.

And just because the native-only vote was rendered unconstitutional doesn’t make the decision right, because the Constitution doesn’t recognize the rights of the island’s native people, he said.

“I feel sad. I feel mad,” Garrido said. “I certainly disagree with it.”

He too will move forward and continue to educate the public about decolonization.

“We’re going to continue to teach the people, to educate the people that we are a colonized society and a perfect example is the ruling from the district court,” he said.

Not a problem

Eloy Hara, co-chair for the commission’s Statehood Task Force, said he personally doesn’t see a problem with the ruling.

“To me Guam is so small. We’re all here on one island and whatever vote, anybody votes it’s for the people that resides here,” he said.

He said he thought the ruling would happen eventually which is why the task force has targeted everybody in their outreach not just native inhabitants.

Hara said the task force will continue with its efforts in informing the public of the benefits of choosing statehood, as it’s been doing for many years.

The Pacific Daily News called Maria Pangelinan, Election Commission director, about the ruling. Pangelinan said she was unable to comment.

Phone calls to Aguon’s office and cellphone weren't returned in hours after the ruling was issued. The PDN also sent an email to Aguon. He hadn't replied as of 6 p.m.

Pacific Daily News
Copyright © 2017 Guam Pacific Daily News. All Rights Reserved

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