Appeals court strikes down Guam's race-based plebiscite law

Limiting the political status vote to “native inhabitants of Guam” is a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said in a ruling that expands the voting eligibility and dismantles the biggest obstacle to the island’s self-determination process.

“Our decision makes no judgment about whether Guam’s targeted interest in the self- determination of its indigenous people is genuine or compelling,” the Ninth Circuit court said in a decision released Monday.

“Rather, our obligation is to apply established Fifteenth Amendment principles, which single out voting restrictions based on race as impermissible whatever their justification.”

The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed in November 2011 by Air Force veteran Arnold Davis, who was denied a chance to register for the yet-to-be-scheduled self-determination plebiscite.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed Federal Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood’s 2018 ruling which held that the plebiscite statute “impermissibly imposes race-based restrictions on the voting rights of non-native inhabitants in violation of the 15th Amendment.”

The government of Guam spent nearly a million dollars in legal fees to challenge the district court’s decision.