DOJ Ignores Guam Voting Discrimination

COMMENTARY Election Integrity

DOJ Ignores Guam Voting Discrimination

Nov 22, 2011 4 min read
Hans A. von Spakovsky

Election Law Reform Initiative Manager, Senior Legal Fellow

Hans von Spakovsky is an authority on a wide range of issues—including civil rights, civil justice, the First Amendment, immigration.

Once again, the Obama Justice Department is refusing to enforce federal voting-rights laws in a race-neutral manner.

On Monday, the Center for Individual Rights (in conjunction with J. Christian Adams, a former DOJ lawyer and author of Injustice: Exposing the Racial Agenda of the Obama Justice Department) filed a class-action federal lawsuit against the territory of Guam, alleging blatant racial discrimination against non-Chamorro residents of Guam in an upcoming election. CIR and Adams were forced to act because the Justice Department refused to do anything about this unlawful discrimination.

“Chamorro” is the racial designation given to the natives who originally inhabited Guam and constitute about 36 percent of the population. Guam is a territory that today has many residents of Western European, American, Asian, and Pacific Islander descent. But all of those other residents are barred by law and the Guam Election Commission from registering and voting on the plebiscite over Guam’s future relationship with the United States.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Arnold Davis, is a former Air Force officer who has been a resident of the island since 1977. When he tried to register for the plebiscite, his application was rejected and marked as “void” by the Guam Election Commission because Davis is white. Bull Connor would have loved the registration form — it required Davis to certify his race under penalty of perjury! Guam is holding a discriminatory election that prohibits certain voters from participating based purely on their race.


Guam’s election restrictions are more extreme than anything that was in place in the South during the height of Jim Crow. Southern states such as Mississippi tried to make it as difficult as possible for blacks to vote through literacy tests, poll taxes, and other obstacles, but some small percentage of blacks were still able to get through this thicket of discrimination to actually register and vote. Guam, on the other hand, bars anyone who is white, Asian, or Filipino from voting in this plebiscite, and even makes it a crime for them to try to register.

Guam is unapologetically and unabashedly violating federal law. Section Two of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits the “denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” Section Two was derived from (and is authorized by) the 15th Amendment, the post–Civil War amendment that established that the right of American citizens to vote could not be “denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Both the Voting Rights Act and the 15th Amendment apply to all U.S. citizens, including residents of Guam. Further, the 1950 Organic Act of Guam — the law passed by Congress that established Guam as a territory and provided it with self-governance — states that no “discrimination shall be made in Guam against any person on account of race.” The Act also specifically incorporates the 15th Amendment and its prohibition on racial discrimination in voting against the government of Guam.

Arnold Davis complained to the Obama Justice Department about this racial discrimination starting in 2009. A Justice Department source familiar with his complaint tells me that the word quickly came down from the political appointees in the front office of the Civil Rights Division that no action would be taken. As with the voter-intimidation lawsuit filed by the Bush administration against the New Black Panther Party — which was quickly dismissed by the Obama administration, even though the case had been won — Davis’s complaint was ignored.

DOJ declined to file a lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act asserting that the deliberate racial discrimination by the “native people” of Guam violated federal law. As we know from the sworn testimony of former Voting Section chief Christopher Coates before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, deputy assistant attorney general Julie Fernandes informed him that it was the policy of the Obama administration that the Voting Rights Act is not to be enforced against racial minorities, no matter how egregious the violation. As CIR president Terence Pell says, the fact that this racial discrimination “continues to take place under the nose of the U.S. Department of Justice is unconscionable.”


As the federal lawsuit outlines, in holding a “Chamorro-only” election, Guam is violating the U.S. Constitution, the Voting Rights Act, and the Organic Act of Guam. As Davis says, it’s pretty clear that the intent of this discrimination is “to empower fewer than 40 percent” of the island’s population to make “a profoundly important political decision” about Guam’s future — similar to how white officials tried to prevent black citizens from having any say in the “profoundly important political decisions” the South faced in the century following the Civil War.

J. Christian Adams has had lots of experience with the racialist attitude of lawyers in the Justice Department. But as he points out, all citizens are protected by the Voting Rights Act and the “guarantees of racial fairness in the 15th Amendment.”


What is tragic (and infuriating) about this lawsuit is not just that the government of Guam believes it can engage in such flagrant racial discrimination without consequence, but also that the Justice Department agrees. Fortunately, CIR and Adams have stepped up to try to protect Mr. Davis and his fellow Guam residents.

As Terence Pell says, either the Justice Department “is serious about enforcing the constitutional guarantee of non-discrimination on behalf of all its citizens or it is not. If it is not, then those guarantees mean little.” It’s become shamefully apparent that this administration isn’t serious about enforcing those guarantees if you happen to be the wrong race, which is a profound betrayal of this nation’s pursuit of equal justice under the law.

Hans A. von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in National Review Online


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