Believe it or not, there is a place where the American flag flies that citizens of particular races are excluded from voting. Citizens not of the chosen race are not allowed to vote in an important election. White and Asian citizens of the United States there are even prohibited from registering to vote for the election. As implausible as it sounds, such is the law on the island of Guam, a territory where the American flag flies and the Voting Rights Act applies, along with the 15th Amendment to the Constitution.
Unless you are a Chamorro (a “native”), you are not allowed to register to vote for a certain election involving the future of Guam. If you are white, or Filipino, you are prohibited from participating.
Even in the Jim Crow south of 1951, some blacks successfully registered to vote after they navigated the nasty maze of character exams and shifting office hours. In Guam, for the plebiscite election, whites (or Filipinos) cannot register to vote, period.
Yesterday, a lawsuit was filed in United States District Court in Guam by the Center for Individual Rights to have this racially discriminatory law declared illegal. Dave Davis, a retired Air Force Major who has lived on Guam since 1977, is the plaintiff. I am also an attorney helping to bring the case. We seek to open up the election to all U.S. citizens, regardless of race.
Many Americans don’t appreciate Guam’s important relationship to America. For starters, more than 1,700 U.S. Marines died liberating Guam from a brutal Japanese occupation in the summer of 1944. I’ve stood on Asan Beach where the Third Marines landed and clawed up sheer beachside cliffs to dislodge the suicidal Japanese firing down on them. More than 18,000 Japanese died in the battle. Guamanians have served in the U.S. armed forces since the island became a territory in 1899, and continue to give their lives for America in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Guam is the tip of the spear for American power in the western Pacific, while at the same time China is challenging American dominance in the region. A nuclear submarine base is on Guam, as well as Andersen Air Force Base, the operating home of B-2 and B-52 bombers aiming west.
But organized anti-American agitators want to throw this essential military presence off Guam. They use the tactics of the European Pershing missile protesters of the early 1980s, but add a native twist — calling the United States the “colonizer” while loudly picketing outside Andersen and the Navy base. They even rely on calls by the United Nations to “decolonize” places like Guam.
Enter the racially discriminatory status plebiscite we are challenging in federal court.
The plebiscite election would decide what Guam’s relationship to the United States should be. The supporters view it as the tool to achieve “decolonization.” One choice would be to sever all ties with the United States. If that choice prevailed (though it is unlikely the federal government would peaceably acquiesce), it would antagonize relations between Guam and the United States.
The organizers have rigged the plebiscite election by prohibiting any whites or Asians from participating in the vote. Only native “Chamorros” are allowed to register and participate. Once enough Chamorros are registered to vote, the election will take place. The government promises to ratify the results of the racially discriminatory election however they can.
In an echo from a nasty bygone era, the plaintiff, Dave Davis, literally had his voter registration form rejected because he is white. Filipinos have been rejected also.
Unfortunately for the activists, the United States Constitution applies on Guam. The 15th Amendment prohibits racial discrimination in voting and the Organic Act of 1950 (the federal law which serves effectively as Guam’s constitution) incorporates the Amendment. The Voting Rights Act also applies on Guam, and strictly prohibits racial discrimination in voting.
Some will claim that the law only limits participation to “native inhabitants,” essentially those who can trace their ancestors back to Guam before 1950. A well disguised racial test is still a racial test.
Imagine if Jim Crow had decided that only those who could trace their ancestors back to anyone who could show title to land, or a contract of indentured servitude, from before 1860 could vote. No mention of race there, but the effect would be to exclude almost all blacks from voting. Nobody would dare claim such a law was free from racial discrimination.
Even if the law we are challenging in Guam really is nothing more than an ancestral test, it still has racially discriminatory effects. If a racially neutral law has racially discriminatory effects, it violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, period.
Strangely, or perhaps not, the Obama Interior Department is slated to give $250,000 to GovGuam (the name for the territorial government) to promote and advertise the racially discriminatory election. Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA), has oversight authority over the Department of the Interior and should put a stop to any promotion of an illegal and racially discriminatory election in Guam by Interior. Representative Michael Simpson (R-Idaho) has budgetary oversight over such racially misguided spending by Interior and should demand that it stop, today.
One cannot help but wonder where the usual suspects are who reflexively attack voting laws they claim are racially discriminatory, such as Voter ID. Where are the noble champions of voting rights now that the victim is a white retired Air Force officer? Where has the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund been now that the discriminated U.S. citizens are Korean and Filipino?
In the meantime, I along with the Center for Individual Rights will fight to ensure that all Americans on Guam, and not just a racially select group, are eligible to participate in any election wherever the stars and stripes fly, and wherever the U.S. Constitution applies.