The U.S. Supreme Court has denied Guam's petition for a review of the Ninth Circuit Court's decision last year that struck down a local law that limits the voting eligibility for the political status plebiscite.
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said the administration will explore legal options to address the issues raised by the Ninth Circuit.
"I haven’t had the time to regroup with our legal people but I am gonna be meeting with Melvyn Borja, who heads the Commission on Decolonization and see what other options we have to move forward on," the governor said. "So we could do legislation, or amend the legislation that would address the Ninth Circuit's concerns about the (local plebiscite law), but we are going to move on with the plebiscite."
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 that pertains to the lawsuit filed in 2017 by former Guam resident Dave Davis.
“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.
The Ninth Circuit ruled that, “Just as a law excluding the native inhabitants of Guam from a plebiscite on the future of the territory could not pass constitutional muster, so the 2000 plebiscite law fails for the same reason.”
Guam’s 2000 Plebiscite Law provides for a “political status plebiscite” to determine the official preference of the “native inhabitants of Guam” regarding Guam’s political relationship with the United States.