Federal Court Dismisses Territorial Voting Rights Lawsuit

Applies Most Lenient Form of Judicial Review to Discriminatory Overseas Voting Laws that Exclude Residents of Disfavored Territories

A federal district court in Hawaii has dismissed Borja v. Nagoa lawsuit brought by individuals living in Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands who are challenging overseas voting laws that would allow them to vote for President and have voting representation in Congress based on their prior residence in Hawaii if they lived anywhere else outside the fifty states, including the Northern Mariana Islands. While limitations on voter eligibility are typically subjected to strict scrutiny, the court held that such limitations when applied to overseas voting are only subject to rational basis review. As a result, the court ruled that Congress and state legislatures could selectively withhold overseas voting rights from former state residents who move to certain disfavored territories while extending them to those who move to certain favored territories or foreign countries.

“When legislatures selectively exclude some people from being eligible to vote while including others who are similarly situated, that should be subject to the court’s highest level of judicial scrutiny,” said Neil Weare, President and Founder of Equally American, which represents the plaintiffs in the case and is also an organizational plaintiff. “It also defies reason to protect the right to vote for President for people who move from a state to the Northern Mariana Islands, but to deny that right to people who move to Guam, another U.S. territory that is less than 150 miles away. Where you live shouldn't affect your right to vote.

Plaintiffs are also represented by Guam attorney Vanessa Williams, Virgin Islands Attorney Pamela Colon, former Guam resident T.J. Quan, and a team of other pro bono attorneys.

Plaintiffs will decide whether to appeal the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the coming weeks.

The court's ruling is available here. Court filings and other background materials are available on the casepage here

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published this page in Equally American Blog 2022-09-07 14:58:48 -0400