September 23, 2014

Chief Judge Kozinski skewers Guam lawyer

By Joshua P. Thompson Senior Attorney

Guam has created a political process that only allows Chamorros — and their ancestors — to vote on Guam independence.  This is a blatant attempt to restrict the right to vote on the basis of ancestry, and is prohibited by both the Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act. Last year, PLF filed a brief in the case asking the Ninth Circuit to hold the discriminatory process unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit heard argument on the case a couple of weeks ago. 

During oral argument for the case, the lawyer for Guam faced extremely tough questioning from Chief Judge Alex Kozinski.  Chief Judge Kozinski kept questioning the poor attorney for five minutes after his time expired.  Some of the (paraphrased) highlights include:

Q: How is this not like a white’s only primary?

Q: If Mississippi did this, wouldn’t it be laughed out of court?

Q: Do you think the state can spend [the Plaintiff’s] tax dollars in manner that only allows certain races to express their opinion?

Q: That’s the least satisfactory answer to a question I’ve heard all day. … You don’t have any better answer than that?

Q: You don’t think its unconstitutional to only ask the opinion of the white people?

The Guam attorney had a rough day. In addition to the tough questions, he made the error of calling a judge the wrong name, got corrected on his pronunciation of “precedent,” and was corrected on many factual assertions. You can listen to the argument here.

What to read next