Trial without Jury in Guam, USA

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 8:30 AM
Monroe Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Katherine Unterman, Texas A&M University
This paper provides a new perspective on the Insular Cases by investigating how the Supreme Court’s decisions affected the residents of the U.S. territories. It focuses on the territory of Guam, which lacked juries in both criminal and civil trials until 1956—nearly sixty years after the island became a U.S. possession. Residents of Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Virgin Islands had limited jury trials, but Guam was left out due to its strategic military significance as well as racialized ideas about the capabilities of Chamorros, the native inhabitants of the island.

This paper recovers the struggle by Guamanians to gain jury trials. It argues that independence movements, like those in the Philippines and Puerto Rico, were not the only forms of resistance to American empire. Through petitions, court challenges, and other forms of activism, Guamanians pushed for jury trials as a way to assert local agency and engage in participatory democracy. This campaign became especially heated after World War II, when the U.S. military appropriated two-thirds of the island without giving proper compensation for the land. Guamanians believed that local juries would offer fairer restitution. For them, the Insular Cases were not just abstract rulings about whether the Constitution followed the flag; they deeply affected the administration of justice and lives of ordinary islanders.

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