Government of Guam Inexplicably Delays Plebiscite Appeal

The Government of Guam recently declined an opportunity to expedite consideration of its appeal of a lower court judgment striking down its long-planned plebiscite on Guam’s future relationship to the United States.

Earlier this month, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit offered to expedite its review of Guam’s appeal if it would agree to hold the oral argument in any of four cities on the west coast of the United States. Guam declined the offer, which means the oral argument must now be held in Honolulu at a later date.

CIR’s President Terry Pell remarked: “Guam lawyers have repeatedly told the court that this plebiscite is necessary in order to redress historical wrongs committed against native inhabitants of Guam. It is stunning that when an opportunity arises to more quickly resolve the legal dispute surrounding the plebiscite, Guam officials elect to wait. Instead of moving to resolve the dispute, it seems Guam officials would prefer to keep the lawsuit around a little longer just to complain about it.”

The proposed plebiscite seeks the opinions of eligible voters on Guam’s relationship with the United States, and will offer voters three options: independence, free association with the United States, and statehood. Eligible voters are limited, however, to “Native Inhabitants of Guam,” defined as those who were granted United States citizenship by the Organic Act of 1950 and their bloodline descendants.

In March 2017, Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood of the United States District Court in Guam held that limiting eligible voters in this way was intentionally racially discriminatory and violated the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. She permanently enjoined the Government of Guam and its officers and agents from enforcing the eligibility rules for the plebiscite. Guam appealed this injunction to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Pell added, “Continued posturing by Guamanian officials just delays the time when the courts rule with finality on its indefensibly discriminatory voting restriction. Doing so will allow a more inclusive plebiscite to promptly go forward, one that reflects the views of all eligible voters on the future of Guam, regardless of race or ancestry.”

Pell is President of the Center for Individual Rights, a public interest law firm in Washington DC that, together with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and the Election Law Center, is representing Guam resident Arnold Davis in his challenge of the racial restriction that prevents him and many others from voting in the plebiscite.