The latest developments in voting rights case Davis v. Guam were the subject of a Federalist Society Litigation Practice Group teleforum featuring J. Christian Adams, attorney for the plaintiff, who prevailed in stopping Guam’s unconstitutional effort to hold a race-based plebiscite.
On March 8, Judge Frances M. Tydingco-Gatewood of the District Court of Guam struck down a Guam law that permitted only those who meet the definition of “Native Inhabitants of Guam” to vote in a future status plebiscite. This decision has been met with opposition from elected officials, protests at the federal courthouse, public rallies, and now an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Supporters of the plebiscite are forcing a reexamination of the role of the United States on this strategically important island and opponents contend they are doing so without giving all citizens a voice in the process. What did the district court decide, and what does the reaction say about the rule of law and respect for the Constitution?
It’s almost as if Guam has decided to take a page from George Wallace’s playbook.
Shades of Old South segregationists:
Guam’s government would rather cancel its plebiscite on the island’s political future than allow voters of all races to participate as a federal judge ordered it to do.
More on the Guam v. Davis decision that found Guam’s race-based “Native Inhabitants”-only voting scheme unconstitutional, via Hans von Spakovsky:
This decision has been a long time coming. The suit, filed by J. Christian Adams and the Center for Individual Rights in 2011, arose when Davis tried to register to vote on the plebiscite. His application was rejected and marked as “void” by the Guam Election Commission because he is white.
Guam, you see, banned residents from registering or voting unless they were Chamorro “natives,” which to the territorial government means people whose ancestors were original inhabitants of Guam. Chamorros constitute only about 36 percent of the island’s present population.
The race-based voting ban clearly violated the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, yet the Obama Justice Department refused to protect Davis or any of the other disenfranchised residents of the island. It neither filed suit against Guam nor intervened in support of the lawsuit filed by Adams and the Center for Individual Rights. Instead, it gave Guam $300,000 to help finance the plebiscite.
“The law is the law; (it) applies on Guam just like it applies everywhere.”
A victory for equal voting rights:
A federal judge on Wednesday struck down as unconstitutional a law that limited voting based on ancestry, finding that Guam’s plebiscite statute amounted to race-based discrimination.
In the case of Davis v. Guam, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood decided in favor of plaintiff Arnold “Dave” Davis, a non-native resident who challenged the law that would have allowed only native inhabitants of Guam to vote in a plebiscite to determine the island’s future political status.
Finding that the plebiscite statute violates the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, the court issued an order granting the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and barring Guam from enforcing the plebiscite law’s race-based restrictions.
“The U.S. Constitution does not permit for the government to exclude otherwise qualified voters in participating in an election, where public issues are decided simply because those otherwise qualified voters do not have the correct ancestry or bloodline.”
Davis’ attorney J. Christian Adams, who formerly served in the U.S. Department of Justice Voting Section and took on Davis’ case after the DOJ declined to act, was happy with the outcome.
“It is a fantastic decision that vindicated voting rights for everybody on Guam,” Adams said. “It says that who your parents were, or grandparents were, has nothing to do with your right to vote and everybody is allowed to participate in the plebiscite.”
“The law is the law; (it) applies on Guam just like it applies everywhere” in the United States,” he said.
“You simply cannot have voting rights based on ancestry.”
J. Christian Adams talks with Pacific News Center’s K57 Newstalk about the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent ruling in Davis v. Commonwealth Election Commission that an ancestry-based voting restriction in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is an unconstitutional race-based exclusion, and about the parallels between that case and Davis v. Guam, in which Adams represents the plaintiff.
Both voting rights cases involve plaintiffs named Davis fighting against the exclusion of otherwise-eligible voters from certain elections based on their ancestry, which the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized may be an unconstitutional “proxy for race.”
Adams emphasizes that the Ninth Circuit’s opinion is clear: “You simply cannot have voting rights based on ancestry. It could not be more clear when you read the opinion. It could not be more clear that you can’t disguise ancestral voting rights as somehow temporal or political.”
The Guam case is sure to be impacted by the appellate court’s ruling, which affirmed the judgment of the district court in striking down CNMI’s ancestry-based voting restriction as a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment and rejected as a matter of law all the defenses CNMI raised.
The Hill: The U.S. has not made progress on race relations under President Obama, said Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the first African-American senator from the South since Reconstruction. “I would say that we have probably had a neutral position on progressing from a racial perspective in America over the last few years,” he said in an interview Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
AP reports that cities are becoming the new battleground for voting rights cases – many are the least able to defend these suits.
…Attorneys who helped dozens of Texas cities and counties redraw their political boundaries after the 2010 Census said cities moving to change their election systems aren’t necessarily attempting to discriminate, and are eager to move beyond the bureaucratic process of the Voting Rights Act. “Not because of nefarious purposes,” said Chris Gober, a conservative Austin attorney who has represented Republicans in redistricting cases. Previously, “The bottom line…is that it imposed real administrative burdens.”
The Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro:
“Amending the Constitution to guarantee the right to vote is a solution in search of a problem, because the Constitution already protects this right…
“But this debate isn’t really about voting rights. Instead, it’s an overheated reaction to a misunderstood Supreme Court decision (Shelby County v. Holder) and a ballot-integrity measure (voter ID) that was uncontroversial until very recently…
“Ultimately, these ‘voting wars’ are fought by elites to scare voters for partisan gain.”