- Pacific Island Times Staff
U.S. Supreme Court fine with disenfranchisement of insular voters
Supreme Court won't review Segovia case; feds deny discrimination against citizens in Guam, CNMI, Puerto Rico, VI before human rights commission.
The U.S. Supreme Court has denied review in Segovia v. United States, a lawsuit seeking to expand voting rights in U.S. territories. The lawsuit was brought by the advocacy group Equally American on behalf of a group of veterans and others living in Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands who would be able to vote for President and have voting representation in Congress if they lived in any other U.S. territory or even a foreign country but cannot based on discriminatory federal and state overseas voting laws.
Last Friday, federal officials defended the continued disenfranchisement of millions of U.S. citizens living in the territories in a hearing before the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights in another case, Rossello v. United States. But Equally American was particularly incensed by the high courts refusal to review the Segovia case, in which plaintiff Luis Segovia is a resident of Guam.
“Last week, nearly 4 million disenfranchised Americans living in U.S. territories could only watch from the sidelines as a new Supreme Court Justice was confirmed to the Court. Today, that same Court denied review of our lawsuit seeking to expand voting rights in U.S. territories. This timing paints in stark relief the undemocratic nature of justice for Americans in the territories – 98 percent of whom are racial or ethnic minorities,” said Neil Weare, president and founder of Equally American, a non-profit organization that advocates for equality and civil rights for U.S. territory residents.
The lead plaintiff in the Segovia case is Luis Segovia, a U.S. citizen who lives in Guam with his family, served an 18 month tour in Iraq with the U.S. Army, a 12 month tour in Afghanistan with the Illinois National Guard, and a 10 month tour in Afghanistan as part of the Guam National Guard. In Iraq, he helped provide security for the 2005 Iraqi elections. He was deployed on his second tour to Afghanistan just months after the 2012 presidential elections, unable to vote for President.
“Absent full enjoyment of the right to vote, Americans in the territories are too easily ignored by all three branches of the federal government. That’s why if we are to bring an end to this second class citizenship it is more important than ever that we raise the voices of not just the nearly 4 million citizens living in U.S. territories but also the over 5 million strong territorial diaspora who do enjoy the right to vote. Our voices must become so strong that we can no longer be ignored," Weare said.
“In the coming weeks and months, Equally American will be considering next steps for expanding voting rights in U.S. territories. As we do that, we’d like to hear from you,” Weare said. “If you live in a U.S. territory and would like to be able to vote for President in 2020, please take our Right to Vote survey.” Equally American’s Right to Vote survey is available online at http://www.equalrightsnow.org/right_to_vote_survey.
Meanwhile, the United States has defended the voting rights denial before an important international body.
On Friday, the United States defended the denial of voting rights in U.S. territories before the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights during its hearing in Rossello v. United States, a case arguing that disenfranchisement in Puerto Rico violates America’s international law commitments to democratic participation. Equally American filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of current and former elected officials from Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
“It was surreal to watch federal officials actually argue that residents of U.S. territories are not denied meaningful political participation in the federal government because they can vote in presidential primaries, can vote for a non-voting Congressperson, or can move to one of the fifty states and vote there,” said Weare. “This kind of reasoning not only defies logic, but it insults the dignity of U.S. citizens living in the territories.”
While there is no set timeline for a decision, one is expected before the presidential elections in 2020.
Rosselló v. United States follows Statehood Solidarity Committee v. United States, a similar case filed by advocates for equal rights in the District of Columbia in which the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ruled in 2003 that the denial of voting representation in Congress for residents of D.C. violated the United States’ international law commitments. The Commission’s ruling in this earlier case could foreshadow how the Commission ultimately rules in Rossello.
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