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US Supreme Court nixes review of territorial-voting-rights case

HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review a federal appeals court’s decision against granting Americans living in U.S. territories the right to vote for president and members of Congress.

The lawsuit was brought by the advocacy group Equally American on behalf of a group of veterans and others living in Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands who would otherwise be able to participate in the national elections if they lived in any other U.S. territory or even a foreign country.

 “Last week, nearly 4 million disenfranchised Americans living in U.S. territories could only watch from the sidelines as a new Supreme Court Justice was confirmed to the court,” said Neil Weare, president and founder of Equally American.

 “Today, that same Court denied review of our lawsuit seeking to expand voting rights in U.S. territories. This timing paints in stark relief the undemocratic nature of justice for Americans in the territories — 98 percent of whom are racial or ethnic minorities,” Weare added.

The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, Segovia vs United States, is Luis Segovia, a U.S. citizen who lives in Guam with his family. He served an 18-month tour in Iraq with the U.S. Army, a 12-month tour in Afghanistan with the Illinois National Guard, and a 10-month tour in Afghanistan as part of the Guam National Guard.

In Iraq, he helped provide security for the 2005 Iraqi elections. He was deployed on his second tour to Afghanistan just months after the 2012 presidential elections.

The case was filed in November 2015 in the northern district court of Illinois. Segovia was joined by five other former Illinois residents now living in Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, along with the nonprofit groups Iraq, Afghanistan and Persian Gulf Veterans of the Pacific and the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands.

They argued for the right to vote under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.

In August 2016, a federal judge in Illinois ruled against the veterans, citing insular cases which established that “there is no fundamental right to vote in the territories.”

An appeals court in Chicago upheld the federal court’s decision on Jan. 18 this year. The plaintiffs found no luck with the U.S. Supreme Court either.

 “Absent full enjoyment of the right to vote, Americans in the territories are too easily ignored by all three branches of the federal government. That’s why if we are to bring an end to this second-class citizenship it is more important than ever that we raise the voices of not just the nearly 4 million citizens living in U.S. territories but also the over 5 million strong territorial diaspora who do enjoy the right to vote» Weare said.

 He said Equally American will be planning its next steps for expanding voting rights in U.S. territories in the coming months.

 “Last Friday, federal officials defended the continued disenfranchisement of millions of U.S. citizens living in the territories in a hearing before the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights in another case, Rosello vs United States,” Weare said.

He said the United States defended the denial of voting rights in U.S. territories before the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights during its hearing in Rossello v. United States.

The case was brought in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights  by former governor of Puerto Rico Pedro Rossello, who argues that disenfranchisement in Puerto Rico violates America’s international law commitments to democratic participation.

Equally American has filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of current and former elected officials from Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

 “It was surreal to watch federal officials actually argue that residents of U.S. territories are not denied meaningful political participation in the federal government because they can vote in presidential primaries, can vote for a non-voting Congressperson, or can move to one of the fifty states and vote there,” said Weare. “This kind of reasoning not only defies logic, but it insults the dignity of U.S. citizens living in the territories.”

Weare said there is no set timeline for a decision on the Rosselle case, but it is expected to come out before the 2020 presidential election.