LOCATION: US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
DOCKET NO.: 99-51
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
CITATION: 528 US 250 (2000)
ARGUED: Dec 06, 1999
DECIDED: Jan 19, 2000
Dennis P. Riordan - Argued the case for the respondents
Seth M. Hufstedler - Argued the cause for the petitioners
Facts of the case
The Organic Act of Guam provides that that "if no [slate of] candidates [for Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Guam] receives a majority of the votes cast in any election...a runoff election shall be held." The Election Commission certified that the Democratic slate of Carl T.C. Gutierrez for governor and Madeleine Z. Bordallo for lieutenant governor had defeated the Republican slate, Joseph F. Ada and Felix P. Camacho. Gutierrez and Bordallo had received a majority of the votes cast for gubernatorial slates in the 1998 Guam general election, but did not receive a majority of the total number of ballots that voters cast due to voters selecting write-in candidates, people voting for both slates, and blank ballots. The opposing Republican slate sought a writ of mandamus ordering a runoff election. According to Ada and Camacho, the phrase "in any election" means the majority as measured by the votes cast in the entire election, not simply in the race for governor. Gutierrez responded that "votes cast" meant actual votes cast for governor and lieutenant governor, rather than ballots in which the governor's contest is left blank. The District Court issued the writ and the Court of Appeals ultimately affirmed, interpreting the statutory phrase "majority of the votes cast in any election" to require that a slate receive a majority of the total number of ballots cast in the general election.
Does the Organic Act of Guam require a runoff election when a candidate slate has received a majority of the votes cast for Governor and Lieutenant Governor, but not a majority of the number of ballots cast in the simultaneous general election?
Media for Gutierrez v. AdaAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 06, 1999 in Gutierrez v. Ada
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 19, 2000 in Gutierrez v. Ada
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the Court in No. 99-51 Gutierrez against Ada will be announced by Justice Souter.
David H. Souter:
The Organic Act of Guam provides that if no slate of candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Guam receive a majority of the votes cast in any election, a runoff shall be held.
The petitioners in this case received a majority of votes cast for gubernatorial slates in the 1998 Guam general election.
But they did not receive a majority of the total number of ballots that voters cast at that general election.
Some people did not vote for Governor.
Respondent’s rival candidates, who sought and obtained a writ of mandamus from the District Court, compelling a runoff election.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed finding that the Organic Act's reference to majority of the votes cast in any election required that a gubernatorial slate receive a majority of the total number of ballots cast in the general election.
In accordance with an opinion filed with a Clerk today, we unanimously reverse.
The phrase "any election" in the Organic Act refers to any gubernatorial election, the phrase is best judged by its context and the relevant section includes six references to elections for Governor and Lieutenant Governor.
Congress has shown in the context of Guamanian elections that it understands the difference between ballots and votes.
To accept respondents’ reading of the law would impute the Congress' strange preference for making it difficult to select the Governor, because a runoff would be required even though one slate already had a majority of all those who cared to choose among gubernatorial candidates.