Guam loses Dave Davis case; 9th appeals court upholds injunction against political status plebiscite; Guam leaders disappointed but will discuss possible options

L-R: Guam Special Assistant Attorney General Julian Aguon; Arnold "Dave" Davis whose challenging native-only voter registration in Guam's long-hoped-for self-determination plebiscite; and former Guam Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett Anderson

The United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against Guam and has affirmed U.S. District Court Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood’s injunction against the holding of a political status plebiscite for Guam.

The case came about as former Guam resident Arnold “Dave” Davis tried to register for the Decolonization Registry so he could vote on a future status plebiscite regarding Guam’s relationship to the United States.

His attempt to register to vote was denied because Davis could not trace his ancestry to a native inhabitant of Guam and Guam law prohibits those who do not have the correct ancestors from registering to vote for the status plebiscite.

But in an opinion written by Judge Marsha S. Berzon, the 9th Circuit Court ruled that Guam’s limitation on the right to vote in its political status plebiscite to “Native Inhabitants of Guam” violates the Fifteenth Amendment which states that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

The court stressed that its decision makes no judgment about whether Guam’s targeted interest in the self-determination of its indigenous people is genuine or compelling.

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

This now marks the second time that the courts have ruled against Guam in this case.

J. Christian Adams, one of the lawyers representing Davis, said the court ruling is a definitive one and should bring closure to the case.

“The Ninth Circuit has again ruled against Guam and this time squarely rejected the arguments that had kept this issue alive for decades. Guam cannot conduct the plebiscite, period, and it’s time to resolve these issues with broad consensus that respects the 15th Amendment instead,” Adams said.

Reacting to the news, Acting Governor Joshua Tenorio told the Patti Arroyo show on NewsTalk K57 that he is disappointed with the 9th Circuit Court ruling.

“I’m obviously disappointed. We’ll work with the Attorney General and the Legislature, review the decision, and discuss our options,” Tenorio said.

He added that the entire leadership of Guam at all levels should be engaged in this issue.

“We need to focus and join efforts to advance our political status issues,” Tenorio said.

Attorney General Leevin Camacho also told the Patti Arroyo show that the 9th district court decision was disappointing in both a historical and personal sense.

He said that as currently written, the plebiscite vote can’t proceed. Camacho will now meet with the governor, the legislature, and other stakeholders to decide on the next step.

“It’s gonna be a policy call at the end of the day,” the AG said.

He added that GovGuam is expected to pay Dave Davis close to a million dollars for compensation and legal fees.