Retired Air Force Major Dave Davis is suing Guam, a U.S. territory, for barring him from voting because of his race.
Davis first brought the case in 2011, after attempting to register as part of Guam’s “decolonization registry”–the body vested with the political power to vote on Guam’s relationship with the United States. Guam is currently what is known as an “unincorporated” U.S. territory. Its residents are U.S. citizens and its elected delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives can serve on committees, but cannot vote.
Many in Guam want it to become an official U.S. commonwealth like Puerto Rico, but current Guamanian law dictates that only Chamorros, Guam’s indigenous population, can vote on changing its political status. To be allowed to vote on such matters, a Guamanian must first register with the decolonization registry, “an index of names established by the Guam Election Commission for the purposes of registering and recording the names of the native inhabitants of Guam eligible to vote in an election or plebiscite for self-determination.”
The registry allows only “those persons who became US citizens by virtue of the authority and enactment of the 1950 Organic Act of Guam [the law by which Guam became a U.S. territory] and descendants of those persons.”
Davis’s case holds that this requirement violates the 14th and 15th amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Organic Act itself, which states that “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.” When Davis first filed his complaint in 2011, the case was dismissed because the plebiscite in which he sought to participate had not yet been scheduled.
The plebiscite cannot legally happen until 70 percent of eligible voters have registered. According to Guampedia, only 6,340 “native inhabitants” had registered as of 2013–a fraction of Guam’s nearly 160,000 inhabitants.
In response to Davis’s original case, the Guamanian government argued that “there is nothing constitutionally wrong with compiling a registry that identifies qualified voters by race,” and that neither the U.S. Congress nor Guam could address “the interests of a colonized people whose racial identity coincides with their political identity” without excluding those who don’t meet their definition of a native Guamanian.
Davis appealed the dismissal of his case, which was heard by a U.S. appeals court in Guam on Wednesday.
“All American citizens are allowed to register to vote regardless of their race or who their grandfathers were,” said J. Christian Adams, an Election Law Center attorney, and former Bush administration Department of Justice official, working on the case. “Guam cannot classify some voters as second class, not worthy to vote on the important issue of Guam’s status.”