Arguing it's not about race, GovGuam takes plebiscite vote issue to Supreme Court

PLEBISCITE: Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero and Attorney General Leevin Camacho attended the Commission on Decolonization meeting on Aug. 6 to discuss the 9th Circuit Court ruling. Post file

The public can anticipate a decision on how the administration will move forward with the plebiscite either before or by next week, according to Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero.

"I'm not leaning toward anything right now because I want to be very objective and hear everybody. But I do know I have to make a decision soon because of the time," Leon Guerrero said.

The governor was referring to the 90-day time frame to appeal the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision rendering Guam's native-only plebiscite unconstitutional, as it violates the 15th Amendment right to vote. 

The governor and the attorney general heard from stakeholders and members of the Commission on Decolonization during a meeting Tuesday afternoon. 

If Guam were to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the island has 90 days from the date of the decision to file a petition for review, according to Attorney General Leevin Camacho. The decision was filed on July 29.

Other options

Leon Guerrero stated during the meeting that the administration will continue toward self determination but the question now becomes a matter of proceeding with appeal "to continue on with the route of only native inhabitants" or accepting the 9th Circuit decision and "allow everybody to vote." 

But Camacho indicated that was not necessarily the case. 

"Requesting the Supreme Court review is one option," Camacho said. "But it's not all or nothing. At this point we have a firm decision from the 9th Circuit that 'native inhabitants' as defined is a race-based classification - you cannot use that category. But it does not mean that there are (no) other categories ... other options that are available, its just a matter of we have a very limited time to figure out what those options are."

Guam cannot move forward with a plebiscite using "native inhabitants of Guam" as defined in law, Camacho added, but this does not exclude other categorizations. 

The 9th Circuit was concerned with the history of the plebiscite law, Camacho said. 

"Native inhabitants of Guam" is defined as persons who became U.S. citizens by virtue of the Guam Organic Act of 1950 and their descendants. While Guam argued at the 9th Circuit that "native inhabitants" is a political classification, the court determined that legislative history suggested the term was a proxy for Chamorro and that it was "nearly identical to (the) 1997 Plebiscite Law which was facially race-based," according to attorney general's office. 

"It's unclear whether the 9th Circuit would have come out that way without the 1997 history behind it," Camacho said. 

While the governor is undecided for now on how to move forward with the plebiscite in light of the 9th Circuit decision, she maintains her preference for a native-only vote. She has not yet spoken to Guam Delegate Michael San Nicolas about a Congressional resolution to plebiscite hurdles. 

"We're looking at our options of strategy. Certainly, (Congress) is one but we haven't made any kind of final decisions. We'll probably do it by the end of this week or next week," the governor said. 

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