Davis’ lawsuit vs CEC on Article 12 dismissed

The federal court has dismissed for lack of jurisdiction the lawsuit filed by John H. Davis Jr., a U.S. citizen who wants to stop the Commonwealth Election Commission from denying U.S. citizens who are not of Northern Marianas descent the right to vote of any issue regarding Article 12 of the CNMI Constitution or on any other issues.

U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona said the dismissal of Davis’ lawsuit is without prejudice as she has not reached the merits.

Dismissal without prejudice is when a case is dismissed but the plaintiff is allowed to re-file a new suit on the same claim in the future.

Article 12 limits landownership in the CNMI only to those of NMI descent.

In her ruling issued Tuesday, Manglona said that Davis’ injury is not actual because it does not occur until he is denied the right to vote or his ballot is disallowed. At the same time, she said Davis’ injury is not imminent because no petition for initiative is on the November 2012 ballot.

Davis’ complaint sets forth seven claims for relief.

Prior to the motions hearing, Manglona dismissed the Commonwealth Election Commission as not a proper defendant on any of Davis’s claims.

The remaining defendants-CEC chair Frances M. Sablan, CEC executive director Robert A. Guerrero, and Gov. Benigno R. Fitial-through the Office of the Attorney General argued that the federal constitutional protections do not apply in this instance, or, alternatively, that the challenged Commonwealth laws do not violate Davis’ federal constitutional rights.

The defendants also asserted that the case must be dismissed because Davis lacks standing and the issue is not ripe for adjudication.

In her ruling, Manglona said a court must dismiss an action if at any time it determines that it lacks jurisdiction.

Manglona said if David were to prevail on the merits of this case, she would not order CEC to let him register as an NMD, but would declare that he does not have to register as an NMD in order to vote.

“Because Davis is already registered to vote, he would not have to take any action to benefit from the ruling, other than to show up at the polls and cast a ballot if he so chooses. The injury would only occur, if ever, on the date of the election,” Manglona pointed out.

The judge said the Commonwealth laws at issue in this case do not impair Davis’ right to speak out on Article 12, to contribute his time and money to efforts to defeat or pass an Article 12 initiative, or even to sign a petition to put an initiative on the ballot.

Even if Davis’ injury were imminent, Manglona said the court must nevertheless decline to exercise jurisdiction if the matter is not ripe for review.

While Davis may find it distressing to contemplate that, if an Article 12 initiative gets on the ballot, he will not be permitted to vote on it, he suffers no hardship until an initiative is “certainly impending,” Manglona said.

The judge said it is now barely more than four months before the November general election.

“The 30-day window for presenting Article 12 petitions to the Commission is about to open, and close. If a petition is presented, Davis will surely have standing and the matter is ripe for adjudication,” Manglona said.

By Ferdie de la Torre

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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