U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona has recused herself from handling a lawsuit filed by a U.S. citizen who seeks to stop the Commonwealth Election Commission from denying U.S. citizens who are not of Northern Marianas descent the right to vote on any issue regarding Article 12 of the CNMI Constitution or on any other issues.
In her order issued Friday, Manglona cited 28 USC Section 455(b)(5)(i) in recusing herself from the lawsuit. She did not explain further.
That statute outlines circumstances where disqualification is mandated. The statute provides that the judge shall disqualify himself or herself in the following circumstances: (b) He or his spouse or a person within the third degree of relationship to either of them, or the spouse of such a person (i) is a party to the proceeding, or an officer, director, or trustee of a party.
Marianas High School vice principal John H. Davis Jr. had named Senate President Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Rota) as among the co-defendants in his lawsuit. The senator is a brother of Judge Ramona Manglona’s husband, acting chief justice John A. Manglona.
Judge Ramona Manglona directed the district court’s clerk to refer the case immediately to Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for reassignment to another judge.
Besides Senate President Manglona, the other co-defendants in the case are Commonwealth Election Commission chair Frances M. Sablan, CEC executive director Robert A. Guerrero, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, and House Speaker Eliceo D. Cabrera (R-Saipan).
In his lawsuit, Davis, through counsel Jeanne H. Rayphand, asked the district court to declare that Article 18 Section 5(c) of the CNMI Constitution violates the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and is invalid, null, and void.
Article 12 limits landownership in the CNMI only to those of Northern Marianas descent. It is up for voters’ review later this year.
Article 18 Section 5(c) states that “in the case of a proposed amendment to Article 12, the word ‘voters’ shall be limited to eligible voters under Article 7 who are also persons of Northern Marianas descent as described in Article 12 Section 4, and the term ‘votes cast’ as used in subsection 5(b) shall mean the votes cast by such voters.”
Davis wants the court to bar the defendants from denying him and other U.S. citizens who are not NMI descent the right to vote.
Rayphand stated in the complaint that the Legislature, in enacting P.L. 17-40, established a race-based registry “for the purpose of disenfranchising U.S. citizens who are not of Chamorro or Carolinian descent.”