By Troy Torres
(Tumon, Guam) Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, in a special address to the people of Guam, announced her decision to appeal the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decision against GovGuam in the landmark Davis Case regarding the vote of self determination of the Chamorro people to decolonize.
At stake is the ability for the so-called native inhabitants of Guam to hold a vote that collectively will express the desire of Guam Chamorros to have a closer relationship with the United States, or to separate from the United States.
Mr. Davis, in his lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Guam years ago, complained that the plebiscite violates his civil rights and disenfranchises him and others, who do not meet the local decolonization law's definition of 'native inhabitant.'
The District Court ruled in his favor. Former Gov. Eddie Calvo and former Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett Anderson decided to appeal the loss to the Ninth Circuit, but lost.
Ms. Leon Guerrero has decided to make a final appeal, this time to the United States Supreme Court. In her address Monday night, she acknowledges that such a decision comes with grave risk, including the Ninth Circuit's narrow ruling spilling over to other areas under legal contention, like the U.S. Justice Department's lawsuit for a permanent injunction against the Chamorro Land Trust Act.
Such a decision will jeopardize the leases of thousands of residents currently living and working on Chamorro Land Trust properties; and the dreams of thousands more awaiting their turn for a residential, agricultural, or commercial lease on thousands of remaining lots.
The governor will be asking Attorney General Leevin Camacho to designate attorneys Mike Phillips and Sen. Therese Terlaje to lead the case on Guam's behalf.
Watch Ms. Leon Guerrero's historic address above. We include the text of her speech below for ease of reference:
For decades, every Governor who sat in this Office has been asked to make tough choices. Whether their challenges were made by man or sheer acts of God, every Governor sought the advice of experts, weighed the facts, and acted in accordance with his heart and head.
I have always believed that our right to self-determination belongs to the native inhabitants of Guam because only the native inhabitants of Guam were denied that most basic of human rights.
Let me be clear: we value everyone that has made Guam home, but a plebiscite is meant to remedy a historical injustice—and that remedy belongs to the native inhabitants of Guam.
While this has always been my personal belief, I must also weigh it against the careful, thorough legal advice of our Attorney General and Special Assistant AGs. They believe that there is potential for significant risk associated with an appeal to the current U.S. Supreme Court.
These potential risks include the Court going beyond the narrow holding of the Ninth Circuit and invalidating our plebiscite under the Fourteenth Amendment, which could put a host of other programs, including the Chamorro Land Trust, at risk.
Today, however, just a few days before our deadline to appeal, I have been asked by other attorneys to not forsake our right to appeal. These legal experts believe Guam must appeal regardless of the Court’s composition or the risks it may invite. They believe history must be served by making our case at the U.S. Supreme Court.
While I appreciate the risks involved, I cannot deny our people the right of an appeal so long as others may be willing to champion it.
That is why I will ask the Attorney General to appoint Attorneys Mike Phillips and Senator Therese Terlaje to lead our Davis appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court.
I recognize that time is short; that we only have days before an appeal must be filed. But if anyone can fight and win for Guam, it is the attorneys who secured a legal victory that enabled the CLTC, and who believe in an appeal.
Guided by our faith in the future of Guam’s People, I am confident that these proven champions of justice will prevail for our people again.