CIR Challenges Guam Referendum

“Chamorro-Only” plebiscite violates Constitution

Washington, DC— The Center for Individual Rights filed suit today against Guam, the Guam Election Commission and seven named Guam officials for discrimination on the basis of race and ethnic heritage under Guamanian laws that prohibit individuals who are not “native inhabitants of Guam” from voting on a plebiscite concerning Guam’s future relationship to the United States.

As “native inhabitant” is defined by law, almost all of the individuals who are permitted to register and vote in the plebiscite are members of the Chamorro racial group. “Chamorro” is a racial designation that refers to groups of native peoples that inhabited Guam prior to the influx of people from Western Europe, the United States, and other Asian and Pacific Island countries. The term “native inhabitant” excludes most Caucasian, black, Korean, Chinese, and Filipino citizens of the United States living on Guam. Currently, the Chamorro racial designation refers to about thirty six percent of the population of Guam.

The Defendant Guam Election Commission has illegally and unconstitutionally refused to allow registered voters who do not meet the definition of “native inhabitant” to register for the plebiscite and refused non-Chamorros the opportunity to vote in this crucial election concerning the future of Guam solely on the basis of their race and ethnic origin.

CIR is representing Arnold Davis in this suit, a white non-Chamorro and long-time resident of Guam who believes that all residents of Guam who otherwise meet the requirements to vote should be provided an equal opportunity to participate in the plebiscite regardless of race or ethnic heritage.

Davis is a retired U.S. Air Force officer who has resided on Guam since 1977. He is a United States citizen, a resident of Guam, and a registered voter who has voted in the past in many Guam general elections. When he applied to register for the plebiscite, he was not permitted to do so because he does not meet the definition of “Native Inhabitant of Guam.”

In holding a “Chamorro-only” election (or any racially discriminatory election), Guam and its officials are acting in plain violation of the U.S. Constitution, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 1950 Organic Act of Guam, and other federal and Guamanian laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race or ethnic heritage. The suit seeks to enjoin the further illegal use of racial or ethnic restrictions on who may vote in the plebiscite.

Though Davis apprised the U.S. Department of Justice in 2009 that Guam’s discriminatory voting laws facially violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (among other statutes), the Department declined to investigate. The Department did not explain its refusal to enforce federal law in Guam, and Davis was forced to file today’s suit in order to protect his right to vote on the same terms as all other citizens of Guam, regardless of race.

Davis commented, “There’s nothing subtle or indirect or even at all ambiguous about the plebiscite law. It seeks to empower fewer than forty percent of our population to make a profoundly important political decision on a public matter that’s properly and constitutionally a right of all the people.”

Christian Adams, a former attorney in the Voting Rights Section of the Department of Justice, has agreed to serve as lead counsel in the case. Adams has participated in the successful litigation of numerous voting rights violations during his five year career at the Justice Department.

Adams commented, “all United States citizens are protected by the Voting Rights Act and the guarantees of racial fairness in the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. Nobody should be subjected to racial discrimination in voting no matter who is doing the discriminating, or why.”

CIR President Terence Pell added, “The fact that Guam’s flagrant racial discrimination continues to take place under the nose of the U.S. Department of Justice is difficult to square with the Constitution, which is very clear that all U.S. citizens are entitled to equal enforcement of the law regardless of race. That includes all the citizens of Guam too.”