Julian Aguon takes Guam's plebiscite concern before federal pane - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Julian Aguon takes Guam's plebiscite concern before federal panel

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In a landmark case for local self-determination, a three-judge federal appeals panel heard arguments on the constitutionality of a native inhabitants-only vote meant to express Guam's future political preference.

The hearing was held Thursday in a courtroom at the University of Hawaii Law School. At issue is the 2017 Guam district court ruling that the proposed plebiscite violates the 15th amendment which prohibits voting discrimination based on race. Guam Special Assistant Attorney General Julian Aguon explains his main argument, and told KUAM News, "The difference between ancestry and race. Our chief contention from both the 15th and 14th Amendment legal arguments we were making was that the District Court inappropriately collapsed ancestry and race and as a matter of law that sort of collapsing was improper.

"And so we asked for a reversal based on the fact that there was no racial cause at issue and that it was perfectly legitimate under both amendments. And the three judge panel really focused on that argument."

But Attorney Lucas Townsend, representing plaintiff Arnold "Dave" Davis, argued that the vote would discriminate against his client, and also that the plebiscite is more than just a non-binding political poll by native inhabitants.  "This is a taxpayer funded, government sponsored vote involving the territory's election machinery. Once you do that, that is something that has to be opened up to all registered voters without distinction of ancestry, without distinction of race. So this is covered by the 15th Amendment," he said.

In a statement, Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson, who attended the hearing, says the judges' back and forth questioning is an indication that, "the legal issues in Guam's case have far reaching constitutional impact." Aguon noted, "It's this idea that if this circuit does not sort of stop the spread of this sort of legal idea that ancestry is always race, it has profound and potentive and dangerous consequences in execution across the legal landscape. Essentially all over the country, simple uses of ancestry, that are perfectly legitimate and do not run afoul of the constitution, would collapse into this across the nation and therefore so many things would be on the chopping block, and I think that's what she was getting at."

A decision is not expected for several months.

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