‘Guam plebiscite appeal raises serious constitutional issues’

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Michael Williams is the lead attorney in the case for the internationally known law firm Kirkland and Ellis which has taken on Guam's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court pro bono, at no cost to the government of Guam.
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GovGuam’s appeal of the Dave Davis plebiscite case raises serious constitutional issues that have never been addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court, according to the lead attorney in the case, Michael Williams.

Guam District Court Chief Judge Frances Tydingco Gatewood has already ruled that the planned plebiscite is unconstitutional because it is race-based and in violation of the 15th Amendment. The 9th Circuit has upheld her decision.

But attorney Michael Williams disagrees. He is the lead attorney in the case for the internationally known law firm Kirkland and Ellis which has taken on Guam’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court pro bono, at no cost to the government of Guam.

Williams maintains that the plebiscite law is legal because it is non-binding and it’s not really a vote.

“This is a plebiscite and because it’s not really creating any binding authorities within the Guam government, that is … this isn’t about benefits, it’s not about punishing people, it’s not about mandating anything. It’s not a vote within the 15th Amendment. It’s more a way of getting the voice of the people,” Williams said.

Equally important, said Williams, is that the plebiscite law does not create a racial classification.

“What this plebiscite has done is taken categories that were established by Congress back in the 1950s when it was enacting the Guam Organic Act. And it’s taking those categories that Congress had used and bringing them in so that the inhabitants of Guam who are descendants of the people who were made citizens can have their voices heard,” Williams said.

Williams expects the justices to decide whether to take up the appeal within the next three months and if they do, he expects a decision to be issued by June.

“I think the Supreme Court has never had the opportunity to say what the outer bounds of that 15th amendment are in the context of non-binding votes like this one, but also in the context of territorial holdings,” Williams said.

“So I think it’s very important that if the United States Government is going to disadvantage Guam in some ways that they also allow the inhabitants of Guam who were made part of the United State to have this voice,” he added.

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