Federal Judge Strike Down Race-based Guam Plebiscite

Washington, DC — US Federal Judge Frances M. Tydingco-Gatewood today struck down the Government of Guam’s plans to hold a referendum on the future relation of Guam to the United States.  Tydingco-Gatewood found that the plebiscite restricted participation to “Native Inhabitants of Guam” in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, each of which prohibit racially discriminatory voting requirements.

The court agreed with Davis that Guam legislators defined the term “Native Inhabitant of Guam” for the explicit purpose of excluding non-Chamorro individuals from voting in the plebiscite. The term “Chamorro” refers to the predominant racial group inhabiting Guam in 1950 when it became a US protectorate.

The District Court initially dismissed Davis’ case on the grounds that the plebiscite was advisory in nature and thus not covered by constitutional prohibitions against racial discrimination in voting.  The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, ruling that Davis was subjected to unlawful discrimination by being excluded from participating in a plebiscite that would likely affect the policies of the Government of Guam.

CIR President Terry Pell commented, “Today’s decision is a great step forward for fairness in Guam.  It rejects efforts to grant special voting rights to racial groups through the pretext of non-racial classifications such as “native inhabitants.”  Judge Tydingco-Gatewood carefully examined evidence that exposed the illegal and racially discriminatory intentions of the Guam legislature in this matter.”

Davis was represented by the Center for Individual Rights, J. Christian Adams of the Election Law Center and Douglas Cox of the law firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.

The Center for Individual Rights is a non-profit public interest firm that specializes in civil rights, free speech, and other cases affecting individual rights.  For more information, contact Terry Pell at 202-833-8400 x 113, or visit CIR’s web site at https://www.cir-usa.org.