Guam must be nostalgic for the Jim Crow South. A federal court has ruled against its unfair voting practices. The U.S. Department of Justice has sent a warning letter demanding that it end its biased housing policies.
Yet Guam is defiant. Instead of correcting its racially discriminatory policies, it’s ramping them up.
Many of the territory’s elected officials and anti-American activists are starting to resemble the unabashed segregationists of the Old South of the 1950s.
Guam wants to hold a plebiscite on the island’s political future. But its government also passed a law that prohibited anyone from registering to vote in the plebiscite unless he or she is a “native” inhabitant—a Chamorro by ancestry.
On March 8, federal district court Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood held that requirement violated the Fifteenth Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The plaintiff in the case, Arnold Davis — a retired Air Force officer and resident of Guam — had not been allowed to register for that plebiscite because he is white. The judge’s ruling would force Guam to open up registration to all of the residents of the island regardless of race.
If you thought the government would comply with the ruling and the citizenry would respect the judicial process, think again.
Rather than complying with the judge’s opinion, the Guam Elections Commission has announced that it is suspending the registration of voters and will spend no more public funds on the plebiscite. The commission’s legal counsel, Jeffrey Cook, claimed that the court order required Guam to take these actions.
Cook is dead wrong. Tydingco-Gatewood’s order permanently enjoins the government of Guam from enforcing the plebiscite law but only “insofar as such enforcement would prevent or hinder Plaintiff and other qualified voters who are not Native Inhabitants of Guam from registering for and voting in the Political Status Plebiscite.”
The order does not strike down Guam’s ability to hold a plebiscite or spend any funds on it. Rather, it simply requires the Guam Election Commission to open up voter registration to all of the residents of the island, including Arnold Davis. Interestingly, the original Voting Rights Act provided for the appointment of federal examiners who could register voters that defiant local officials refused to register. Guam, it seems, may need that kind of federal examiner.
Guam has launched a Pacific version of the “massive resistance” that followed the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.
Even more radical are new calls from Guam Governor Eddie Calvo to use separate ballots for indigenous residents and non-native residents in the 2018 plebiscite.
Think of it as a Pacific Islander version of Plessy vs. Ferguson.
It is almost as if the government of Guam has decided to take a page from George Wallace’s playbook. In 1963, the segregationist governor of Alabama ignored a court order to integrate Alabama schools. Instead, Wallace ordered state police to prevent public schools from opening at all. President Kennedy was forced to call out the National Guard to enforce the integration of the schools.
Or perhaps Guam is trying to copy the behavior of Lester Maddox. An ardent racist, later elected governor of Georgia, Maddox refused to obey Judge Frank A. Hooper Jr’s order that he end discrimination in his Pickrick Restaurant. Rather than serve black Georgians, Mattox closed the restaurant.
Guam’s maneuvers to avoid registering those whom the government considers “non” natives are just as wrong as those taken by Prince Edward County, Virginia, and some other local public school districts to avoid integration. Those maneuvers ended when the Supreme Court ruled in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (1964) that the schools must reopen and that their segregationist policies violated the Equal Protection Clause.
The plebiscite registration law is not the only instance of government-sponsored discrimination in Guam. A Jan. 13 letter from the U.S. Department of Justice threatened Guam with a lawsuit over the Chamorro Land Trust Act, which limits housing benefits and leases of land owned by the Trust to “native Chamorros” only. Justice says that the Trust is discriminating “on the basis of race or national origin” in violation of the Fair Housing Act. DOJ offered to defer filing the lawsuit if Guam stops its discriminatory conduct and agrees to a consent decree.
It is commendable that Justice has finally acted against the Trust. But the Department certainly took its time. The problem has been on its radar screen since the beginning of the Obama administration. On July 16, 2009, the Chamorro Land Trust Commission passed a resolution against Arnold Davis, the plaintiff in the voting lawsuit, denying his “application to lease land for residential use.” The reason offered for the denial? Davis is not “a native Chamorro.”
Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo and the Guam Legislature are both refusing to end Guam’s official discrimination. The Legislature has already passed two resolutions: one instructing the government to fight the Justice Department and not enter into a consent decree settling the claim against the Chamorro Land Trust Act (Resolution 52-34); the other calling on the government of Guam to appeal Tydingco-Gatewood’s order on the plebiscite law so that the territory can continue to discriminate (Resolution 51-34).
After the Supreme Court decided cases like Brown and opened schools to all races, opponents attacked the courts. Billboards appeared across the South calling for the impeachment of Chief Justice Earl Warren.
Activists on Guam are borrowing a page from that playbook.
Protesters supporting continued discrimination, some with face masks, have been appearing in front of the federal courthouse, according to the Guam Daily Post, day after day protesting the decision and attacking the judge as a “colonizer judge.”
They may be violating a federal law intended to stop the masked nightriders of the KKK and others who use such tactics to intimidate. As provided in 18 U.S.C. §241, it is a violation of the law when “two or more persons go in disguise on the highway, or on the premises of another, with intent to prevent or hinder his free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege so secured.” Protesters clearly want to prevent residents like Arnold Davis from being able to exercise their right to register and vote.
Their labeling of Davis, a veteran, as well as Judge Tydingco-Gatewood and other Americans who have moved to the island as “colonizers,” is shameful given Guam’s history. The U.S. military suffered over 7,000 casualties in 1944 to liberate Guam from its brutal Japanese occupiers. Today, the majority (64 percent) of Guam residents are non-Chamorro.
Separatist activists like Michael Lujan Bevacqua, a professor of Chamorro studies at the University of Guam, make false claims that this fight is about preserving “white male privilege,” ignoring the fact that Guam is discriminating against whites, blacks, Hispanics, and any other American who doesn’t fit their definition of a “native” of the island.
Guam now serves as the tip of the American nuclear spear in the Pacific, so this separatist movement is more than a nuisance. It should alarm the Trump administration during a time of increased belligerence by China and North Korea.
The Governor and legislature of Guam apparently don’t believe they represent the majority of the island’s residents—hence, their refusal to have free elections. They, the activists like Bevacqua, and the masked protestors, are just as wrong in what they are doing today as the racists who opposed integration and civil rights 60 years ago. Official racial discrimination is ugly, and when it involves saber-rattling against federal law, it is even uglier.
Hans A. von Spakovsky is a Senior Legal Fellow at The Heritage Foundation. Along with John Fund, he is the coauthor of “Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk” and “Obama’s Enforcer: Eric Holder’s Justice Department.”
Roger Clegg is the President and General Counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity.