U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona issued a ruling today, Tuesday, declaring that qualified voters who are not of Northern Marianas descent must have the opportunity to vote on any Article 12 initiative and any other initiative to amend Article 12.
In a landmark 51-page decision, Manglona said Northern Marianas descent, as defined in Section 4 of Article 12 of the Commonwealth Constitution, is a racial classification, and under federal law it may not serve as the basis for preventing otherwise qualified voters from voting on proposed amendments to Article 12.
“Even if Northern Marianas descent were not a racial classification, it would be unconstitutional to deny non-NMDs the right to vote on Article 12 initiatives because the restriction is not narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state purpose,” Manglona said.
The judge issued the ruling in favor of John H. Davis Jr., a registered voter in the CNMI who, through counsel Jeanne H. Rayphand, filed a lawsuit against the Commonwealth Election Commission in his desire to vote on any initiative to amend Article 12.
Article 12 restricts the acquisition of permanent and long-term interests in real property in the CNMI to persons of Northern Marianas descent.
A separate provision of the CNMI Constitution, Article 18 Section 5(c), prohibits otherwise qualified voters who are not NMDs from voting on Article 12 initiatives.
In her decision, Manglona said the constitutional protections of the 14th and 15th Amendments with respect to the right to vote on initiatives to modify or repeal land-alienation restrictions are applicable in the Commonwealth.
Manglona ordered that the Commonwealth is permanently enjoined from enforcing Article 18, Section 5(c), and for enforcing Public Law 17-4- and any Commonwealth Election Commission rules and regulations implementing that law, in so far as such enforcement would prevent or hinder Davis Jr. and other qualified voters who are not NMDs from voting on Article 12 ballot initiatives.
More details to follow.