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AGO: Guam’s political status plebiscite must be open to all registered voters

Updated: May 14



By Pacific Island Times News Staff


Guam’s political status plebiscite must be open to all registered voters, the island’s attorney general said, noting that the U.S. Constitution “will not permit a vote for this purpose to be limited to a subset of voters.”


At the same time, Attorney General Douglas Moylan cautioned Guam against seceding from the United States, saying the island is "unable to economically stand alone in this world."


In a legal opinion requested by Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, Moylan suggested that the legislature repeal the local statute that seeks to limit the vote to those who fall under the definition of “native inhabitants of Guam.”


“It is this attorney general’s legal opinion that the methodology enacted by the past Guam legislature in determining Guam’s political future is legally flawed and wasted decades pursuing,” Moylan wrote.


In the yet-to-be-scheduled political status vote, Guam would be asked to pick from three options: independence, statehood and free association.


The non-binding plebiscite, however, has been indefinitely postponed due to a controversy over a provision that limits the process to “native inhabitants,” which under Guam law refers to those “who became U.S. citizens by virtue of the authority and enactment of the 1950 Organic Act of Guam and 

descendants of those persons.”


The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in response to a lawsuit filed by former Yigo resident Arnold “Dave” Davis, held that limiting the political status vote to a certain group of people based on race was unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case.

 

Moylan said Guam’s attempt to draw a parallelism between its indigenous people and the native American tribes recognized under federal law does not hold water.

 

Douglas Moylan

In previous rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that tribal Indians and the United States had a “special relationship” that entitled tribal members to reserve opportunities such as making political choices. Such a relationship, according to the court, is founded on the premise that the U.S. has recognized tribes as sovereign governments.

 

“A review of the Guam Organic  Act finds no parallel recognition on the part of the Congress of any ‘sovereign nation’ found on Guam,” Moylan argued.

 

“In fact," he added, "the Bill of Rights found in the Organic Act directs that, ‘No qualification, apart from citizenship, civil capacity and residence shall be imposed on any voter. No discrimination shall be made in Guam against any person on account of race, language or religion nor shall the equal protection of the laws be denied.”

 

Moylan said converting “native inhabitants of Guam” to a status equivalent to a sovereign tribe would require an amendment to the Organic Act. 

 

“We strongly recommend that Guam use its political connections in the U.S. Congress to vie for a statute supporting Guam’s unique history and the 1898 Treaty of Paris to lobby Congress to achieve a federal statutory enactment (and methodology with funding authorization) to achieve Guam’s goals for political self-determination,” the attorney general said.


In checking a political status box, Moylan suggested that Guam leaders and voters chose an option that will "preserve our economic strengths that protect and improve our current and future quality of life."


"Prideful independence that hurts us economically, and isolates us from a nation as politically, economically and militarily powerful as the United States of America will ultimately hurt us as an 'island nation' that has historically had no enduring export other than tourism and our strategic importance to the world’s superpowers."


He noted that Guam’s "enduring strength is founded upon our 'melting pot' and mixture of nationalities and cultures that make up our people, as well as our welcoming spirit."





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