After a lonely six-year battle, retired Air Force officer Arnold Davis, a resident of Guam, has finally won his right to register to vote in the U.S. territory and participate in a plebiscite on its future.
On March 8, Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood ruled that Guam’s law limiting registration and voting to “Native Inhabitants” of the island is a violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. As the judge said, the Constitution does not allow 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.”
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 defiant attitude displayed throughout this litigation by Guam officials and plebiscite activists reared its ugly head again after the ruling came out. Joe Garrido, chairman of the “Free Association Task Force” organized by Guam’s Commission on Decolonization, called Tydingco-Gatewood a “colonized federal judge” who is “not working for the Chamorro people. . . . She is working for the government that is colonizing Guam.”
In his “State of the Island” address, delivered just two days before the decision, Guam governor Eddie Calvo said that if the federal court ruled against Guam, he would “petition the other branches of the federal government to secure the right of our people against this continuing subjugation.” He promised that he would not turn his “back on the Chamorro people,” although he is apparently willing to turn his back on the other 64 percent of island residents who don’t fit his definition of a Guam “native.”
After the ruling, Calvo issued a statement vowing to find a “way to work around” it, adding that when the judge “says we can’t — I say we can.” He even proposed changing the plebiscite by having “two separate boxes — one would be marked if you’re a native inhabitant and the other would be marked if you’re a non-native.”
Calvo’s defiance makes it all the more essential for the Justice Department to bring its heft to bear against any efforts to subvert the judge’s ruling. If the governor actually tries to implement a racially segregated ballot as he has suggested he will, the Justice Department must act.