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US Supreme Court declines to take up Guam plebiscite case

HAGATNA, Guam — The U.S. Supreme Court announced it will not review a case that could affect the political status of Guam.

The order issued Monday means a July 2019 federal appeals court ruling will stand and Guam’s native inhabitants cannot participate in a political status plebiscite, The Pacific Daily News reported.

The Guam government in December appealed a July 2019 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which said the island’s political status plebiscite is race-based and violates constitutionally protected voting rights.

The non-binding vote would determine whether native inhabitants prefer statehood, free association or independence from the United States.

Guam is a U.S. colony and the results of the plebiscite could have helped shape the island’s future actions involving decolonization.

The government’s appeal was considered a long shot, as the Supreme Court typically agrees to consider only about 3% of appeals. The court did not issue its reasoning for rejecting the Guam case.

Guam resident Arnold Davis filed a 2011 federal lawsuit against the Guam Election Commission after the panel denied his request to register for the plebiscite because he did not meet the legal definition of a “native inhabitant.”

Guam’s plebiscite law defines native inhabitants as people who became U.S. citizens because of the Organic Act, which establishes U.S. territories, and their descendants.

The government argued the Ninth Circuit incorrectly held that Guam’s plebiscite law is considered a “vote.” The plebiscite is instead a targeted public opinion survey that does not impact public policy, the government argued.

Davis’ attorneys asked the Supreme Court to reject the government’s petition, saying the plebiscite is not simply a non-binding survey and would commit the government to take a position on the island’s political status.

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