Eric Holder is scheduled to land in Guam today, the first U.S. attorney general ever to visit the U.S. territory, which serves as a center of U.S. military power in the Western Pacific. But the Associated Press reports that after meeting with local officials, Holder will not take any questions from journalists “because his tight schedule doesn’t give him time for a press conference.”
That may be, but the curious omission also spares Holder from any questions about why his department has refused to intervene in or comment on an important court case involving U.S. citizens who are being barred from voting on the island — a far more serious matter than the mainland voter-ID laws decried by Holder as the equivalent of “poll taxes.”
The Chamorro-native-controlled government of Guam is actively excluding the non-Chamorro U.S. citizens on the island from voting in an upcoming referendum on the island’s future. Non-native citizens — Filipinos, other Asians, whites, and blacks — are even prohibited from registering to vote for the election, although they make up 63 percent of the island’s 155,000 residents. The intent is to guarantee that only natives will decide whether they wish to sever ties with the U.S. and seek independence for Guam, keep its status as a territory, or move toward statehood. The territory’s Chamorro governor and the Guam Election Commission can call the vote on this matter anytime they wish.
The restriction is defended by Guam as being non-racial because it restricts the vote to “native inhabitants” who lived in Guam in 1950 and their direct descendants. But the Supreme Court has frequently struck down such sly attempts to restrict voting rights. In Guinn v. United States (1915), the Court rejected Oklahoma’s attempt to close voter-registration rolls by saying that the Fifteenth Amendment nullifies “sophisticated as well as simple-minded modes of discrimination.” In 2000, in Rice v. Cayetano, the Supreme Court struck down a law that allowed only native Hawaiians to vote on who should run the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The court opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy stated: “Distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry are, by their very nature, odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality.” The Voting Rights Act of 1965, barring discrimination in voting, is also in full effect in Guam.