The Right Coast

July 18, 2005
Hawaii's Effort to Un-Melt the Melting Pot
By Gail Heriot

The proposed Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act is an appallingly ill-considered piece of legislation. And if something isn’t done to stop it, it will become the law of the land soon. See details here and here.

The Akaka bill (as the bill is known) would confer quasi-sovereign status on the "Native Hawaiian" minority living in Hawaii. Native Hawaiians (defined racially rather than by birth situs) would be free to create their own racially-exclusive governing bodies in much the same way that Indian tribes now do. In theory, this will allow Native Hawaiians to get around the Supreme Court of Rice v. Cayetano, which prohibited the State of Hawaii from holding elections in which only Native Hawaiians could vote for the Board of Trustees that administers Hawaii’s elaborate system of Native-Hawaiians-only benefits.

There is a difference between recognizing real Indian tribes and making Native Hawaiians into an Indian tribe. The former was a bow to political reality. These Indian tribes were not fully part of the United States at the time of their recognition. Most important, they had not been brought under (and have still not been brought under) the sovereignty of any state government. In some ways, they were and continue to be foreign nations. Native Hawaiians, on the other hand, are ordinary citizens of Hawaii, who are retroactively seeking this semi-foreign status.

It’s hard to imagine a worse precedent. If Native Hawaiians, who are currently full citizens of Hawaii and the United States, can un-melt the melting pot, what about other groups? The Amish in Pennsylvania? Cajuns in Louisiana? Cubans in Florida? Quite large groups could play at this game. What about Mexicans in the Southwest? Blacks in the Deep South?

More on this topic later...