On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago will consider an equal protection challenge by plaintiffs in Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, who would be able to absentee vote for president and voting representation in Congress, if they lived in other U.S. territories or a foreign country, but are denied such rights based solely on their ZIP code, according to ‘We The People Project’, a non-profit that advocates for equal rights and representation in U.S. territories. According to a release issued by the nonprofit on Wednesday, on Monday, the Trump Administration unexpectedly filed a last-minute letter with the court arguing for the first time that if an equal protection violation is found, the remedy should be to strip away statutorily provided absentee voting rights that are already provided to residents of certain territories. As plaintiffs explained in a filing yesterday, the Trump Administration’s view that voting rights should be “leveled down” is unprecedented – for good reason courts are hesitant to strip voting rights provided by law.
This new legal position comes as President Trump has said he will visit the Hurricane Irma-ravaged U.S. Virgin Islands in the coming days. Moreover, the Trump Administration’s position is in conflict with a resolution passed by the Republican National Convention in August supporting “equal citizenship” for the more than 4 million U.S. citizens who call the territories home.
“The solution to an equal protection violation is not to strip everyone of their voting rights, it is to expand enjoyment of the right to vote to all who are similarly situated,” said Neil Weare, President and Founder of We the People Project. “This turnaround, just weeks after the Republican National Committee spoke out in favor of voting rights in U.S. territories and possibly days before President Trump visits the U.S. Virgin Islands, is troubling to say the least.”