Arnold “Dave” Davis, 83, started it all eight years ago when he tried to enter his name on the Decolonization Registry so he could vote in the non-binding plebiscite on Guam’s political status.

His attempt to register was denied because he is not a native inhabitant of Guam.

That led to a lawsuit and a ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday upholding Guam District Court Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood’s decision striking down the Guam plebiscite law as unconstitutional because it is race-based and in violation of the 15th Amendment.

“I’m not surprised,” Davis said. “I’m just disappointed that it took eight years. Actually, it took a lot longer than that. I’ve been working on and off on it for 30 years.” 

Davis described his reaction to the decision as “a sense of accomplishment. You couldn’t characterize it as vindication, nor satisfaction,” he said.

“I feel like I’ve accomplished something for all of the folks in Guam who were locked out of this vote, especially those of Filipino ethnic origin.”

He said he has “always held the position that the CHamoru people definitely have a right to self-determination,” but only in a vote in which all island residents are allowed to participate.

Guam Del. Michael San Nicolas also issued a statement saying, "from the onset years ago, I advised that the U.S. courts were not going to render the results that were hoped for and this has proven to be the case."

"It is a stark reality that we need to face... As long as Guam remains under U.S. law, we need to look within the law to ascertain the outcomes we desire, and this means putting tribal recognition of the CHamoru people and the Chamorro Land Trust on the table in order to preserve its original intent for the CHamoru people under U.S. law.”

Disappointment

“It’s not unexpected,” said Robert Underwood, former Guam delegate to the U.S. Congress and the recently retired president of the University of Guam. “Of course, it’s very disappointing.”

“It doesn’t mean that this struggle doesn’t continue,” he said. “We need a little bit of political will and political strategy that gets us to the point of CHamoru self-determination. ... We’re at this point because there are real barriers to this exercise (and) it is important not to unnecessarily personalize those barriers.”

He emphasized that proponents of the plebiscite have “a legitimate, ethical, moral position. It is not illegitimate. It is not racial. It is not meant to disparage anybody."

“That’s really important to get across,” he said.   

Next Step

Davis hopes to “see a transition away from the racial and ethnic emphasis to an inclusive approach to the political status issue.”

Underwood said members of the political leadership of Guam need to make a strong statement that they are in support of the basic concept of CHamoru self-determination “and make a renewed commitment to try to determine how to move forward.”

“The decision of going to the Supreme Court is something that has to be calculated in terms of the cost,” Underwood said.

Legal fees to defend against the Davis lawsuit are now in the neighborhood of $1 million, all of which the government of Guam is now liable for.

On the other hand, he said, “finding out that the Supreme Court utterly rejects this idea of CHamoru self-determination is also useful” because the written decisions from the justices could enable us “to triangulate a political strategy that gets you where you want to go.”

“It's not just hoping that you get the final decision that you want, it's also getting insight into what American jurisprudence thinks is an appropriate step politically in order to carry this out," Underwood said. 

“We are disappointed with the 9th Circuit’s ruling,” said acting Gov. Joshua Tenorio in a statement to the media. “We will confer with the attorney general and the Guam Legislature to discuss Guam’s options moving forward. As we strive to resolve the political status of our island through decolonization, our goal will always be for our people to be treated fairly so that together, we will have a stronger voice and representation in the United States and the world,” Tenorio said.