Appellate court issues opinion on plebiscite - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Appellate court issues opinion on plebiscite

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While the District Court of Guam dismissed the case over two years ago, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has issued an opinion reinstating a lawsuit challenging the voting restrictions for Guam's plebiscite on political status. Nearly five years ago, the Guam Election Commission had less than 1,000 people on the Guam Decolonization Registry. And according to executive director Maria Pangelinan, that number has increased dramatically.

"At this time, we are reporting there are 8,136 native inhabitants registered," she explained. The Decolonization Registry is needed in order to move forward with Guam's plebiscite election. "For this one, it would be the exercise of the native inhabitants of the people of the land on self-determination, what type of government they would wants," Pangelinan said.

One person not on that registry is Guam resident Arnold "Dave" Davis, who recently saw his lawsuit sent back to the District Court of Guam. "It was several years ago when Dave Davis filed a lawsuit after he was prohibited from registering to vote on Guam's political status. As it stands, Guam law only allows descendants of native inhabitants of the territory dating back to 1950 to participate in the plebiscite," she said.

Davis however argues that the constitution, the Organic Act, and the Voting Rights Act all provide that every citizen be treated equally and have the same political voice. It was back in early 2013 when District Court of Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood dismissed his case after agreeing with the government that no date had been set for the political status vote and therefore Davis had suffered no injury and that the case was not ripe for review.

In response, Davis filed an appeal. Davis is represented by Washington-based public interest law firm, the Center for Individual Rights, who announced the 9th Circuit had reversed Tydingco-Gatewood's decision. A 9th Circuit judge wrote that Davis not only had standing but that the "alleged denial of equal treatment to Davis is....a judicially cognizable injury." As for the latest development in the case, Pangelinan could not comment on the matter.

"We've become aware of it and we will work with legal counsel to see what are the next steps are for the Guam Election Commission," she said.

Meanwhile, Commission on Decolonization executive director Ed Alvarez tells KUAM the 9th Circuit's decision does not affect the commission's work as their mission will be to continue to educate the public. He does however say the process of moving forward the plebiscite should be "free-flowing without the coercion or influence of any party or entity. Personally, when you take it court, you isolate the process of self-determination." As for the threshold of the plebiscite, the law requires 70% of eligible voters - a mandate Alvarez says is "ambiguous" and needs to be clarified before any date is set.

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