AG Says Plebiscite Is Not About Race, It’s About Fulfilling a Promise


The Attorney General says there’s a deep history behind the plebiscite that dates back to 1898. She’s responding to Dave Davis, who’s challenging Guam’s plebiscite law on the basis of racial discrimination because it uses the words “Native Inhabitants of Guam.”

Guam – Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson continues to defend a political plebiscite lawsuit that claims Guam’s decolonization registry discriminates based on race, but she says this is not an issue about race, but rather fulfilling a promise made by Congress in the Organic Act of Guam.


“It’s not race based. I mean, that’s our whole argument,” says Barrett-Anderson.


The AG is responding to Arnold “Dave” Davis, the plaintiff who filed a class action lawsuit against the government in 2011, claiming that his constitutional rights were violated because he was denied the right to register in the decolonization registry.

By law, only “native inhabitants of Guam” and their descendants can register to vote in a plebiscite, which will only be held when the registry reaches the 70 percent threshold. The plebiscite will ask voters which of the three political statuses they prefer: statehood, free association or independence.

“When we say ‘native inhabitants of Guam’ at the time of 1950, it means whoever were here at that time and there were a lot of–a huge number of Filipinos who built our island after the war,” she explains.

But the argument Davis makes in his latest court filings is that regardless of how the registry or the law is worded, it uses ancestry or blood line to determine eligible voters, which Davis says is “a proxy for race.” Another argument Davis makes is that this plebiscite would affect even those who aren’t native inhabitants of Guam, like himself.

We asked Barrett-Anderson about Davis’ contention that it’s unfair for a man who’s barely set foot on Guam to be able to register, whereas someone like himself, who’s been on Guam for more than 30 years, cannot.

“He’s like my dad, been here most of their lives, and I appreciate that and I understand it,” she acknowledges. “The decolnization vote is unique. It’s temporal in nature. It is not intended to be race based.” 

Barrett-Anderson explains that there’s a deep, rich history behind the plebiscite vote and it dates back to 1898 when Spain ceded Guam to the United States after 300 years of colonizing the island.

“1950 is a turning point of those who were here from 1898 to 1950 and then the United States brought us into citizenship,” explains Barrett-Anderson. “We’re now two or three generations beyond that in this movement toward this greater self determination and greater government. Who owns that? Well it’s partly owned by those who were here in 1898 when we weren’t asked what do we want–we were taken–and then in 1950 we asked for citizenship, but we didn’t realize that it wouldn’t lead us to greater self determination.”

The AG says when the case is ready to be argued, she, herself, will be on that podium. She says they’ve also hired a special attorney to defend the case.

“He is a special assistant attorney general, Julian Aguon. He is an expert in the field of territorial law. He teaches and gives lectures all ove the Pacific, including Richardson School of Law in Hawaii. So we’re very, very lucky to have Julian assist us in our briefs. I will be there with Julian in arguing,” says Barrett-Anderson.

“I wish Mr. Davis good luck and I hope he wishes us good luck as well.”