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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Guam Plebiscite Court Case Dismissed
Judge: until plebiscite comes about, plaintiff has no claim

By Geraldine Castillo

HAGTA, Guam (Marianas Variety Guam, Jan. 10, 2013) – The District Court of Guam yesterday dismissed without prejudice a class action accusing the local government and the Guam Election Commission of racial and voter discrimination in connection with Guam’s political status vote.

In dismissing the case, Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood pointed out that the lead plaintiff, Yigo resident Arnold "Dave" Davis, failed to demonstrate that an immediate injury or threat existed to warrant the case to proceed, specifically because no plebiscite has been scheduled.

"Until the plebiscite he seeks to register for is ‘certainly impending,’ he has no claim," the chief judge wrote.

"There is no discernible future election in sight. Indeed, while [Davis] cites the fact that the plebiscite has been set and reset repeatedly as proof of hardship, what it actually demonstrates is just how uncertain it is as to exactly when a plebiscite will ever be held," she added.

The class action, filed a little over a year ago, would have gone on a bench trial in September this year. However, Tydingco-Gatewood yesterday ultimately decided to dismiss the case.

In the complaint he filed in November 2011, Davis alleged discrimination in the voting process after he was denied from registering with the Guam Decolonization Registry, which was to be used for a plebiscite to determine Guam’s political status preference.

‘Native inhabitant’

Although a longtime resident of Guam, Davis did not meet the requirement of being a "native inhabitant of Guam," which was defined "as a person who became a U.S. citizen by virtue of the 1950 Organic Act and a descendant of such person."

The chief judge issued an order adopting Magistrate Judge Joaquin Manibusan’s recommendation for a dismissal. Manibusan in June last year recommended a dismissal of the case on the grounds that the case was not "ripe" for adjudication.

Pursuant to Guam law, the Decolonization Registry was to create a list of qualified voters for a plebiscite.

Although no plebiscite has been established, another law was passed that would require a political status plebiscite to be held on a general election at which 70 percent of eligible voters have been registered.

The chief judge, however, indicated that Davis may file suit again for the court’s consideration if and when he is able to demonstrate that a plebiscite will occur for certain any time soon.

Davis, who is presently in the state of Arizona, was contacted by the Variety and informed of the decision. He was unable to provide a comment as of press time.


Shortly after the court order was issued, Speaker Judith Won Pat released a statement, noting her satisfaction "for the moment" with the dismissal.

Won Pat said that while the court’s decision may have addressed issues raised by Davis, "it does nothing to help settle the real issue of Guam’s political status."

She indicated that the island’s political status "must be addressed by our island community and her people without obstruction." She also called the lawsuit unnecessary and time-consuming.

"At the end of the day, once a date is set, the vote will simply reflect the desire of the people of Guam with regard to our future relationship with the United States. It will still be up to Congress to take action, if any," Won Pat stated. "I question why there is opposition to allowing an island’s indigenous people to express their desires," she concluded.

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