What do you think most Americans would say if the U.S. government created a new and exclusively race-based government with the authority to exempt itself from the U.S. Constitution and state authority at its own discretion? As ridiculous as it sounds, that is exactly what the House of Representatives voted for yesterday by a vote of 245-164. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs explained that the passage of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2010 pleased President Obama, and that he, “looks forward to signing the bill into law and establishing a government-to-government relationship with Native Hawaiians.” But before celebrating the birth of a new tropical bureaucracy (it still needs to pass the Senate) our lawmakers should put some thought into whether this plan is equitable and constitutional. Brian Darling, The Heritage Foundation’s Director of Senate Relations, explains that the plan would create a racially exclusive government, “to solicit federal monies and create programs to benefit individuals who fit the definition of “Native Hawaiian.”
Congratulations, Native Hawaiians. You are the 2010 nominee for the government-issued identity politics prize. The winnings include self-governance, with the authority to go over the head of the Hawaiian state government (without the support of the Governor) to negotiate with the federal government over territorial, resource, and tax matters. Now, who qualifies as a Native Hawaiian? The plan indicates that a federal commission is to decide using criteria including, but not limited to, “a direct lineal descendant of the aboriginal, indigenous, native people who resided on the islands that now comprise the State of Hawaii on or before January 1, 1893”, as well as being eligible in 1921 for the programs authorized by the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920, or a direct lineal descendant of such a person.
However, National Review’s Duncan Currie uncovered that such eligibility guidelines are “essentially meaningless”, since the Native Hawaiian governing entity would hold the trump card of, “inherent power and authority to determine its own membership criteria, to determine its own membership, and to grant, deny, revoke, or qualify membership without regard to whether any person was or was not deemed to be a qualified Native Hawaiian constituent under this Act” (emphasis added by Currie).
A United States Office for Native Hawaiian Relations would be created to negotiate a special political and legal relationship between Native Hawaiians and the United States. The supporters of this bill argue that Native Hawaiians are similar to an Indian tribe and they should be declared a sovereign entity so they can negotiate benefits from the U.S. government. The fact of the matter is that Hawaii was a kingdom with a monarch before becoming a state, unlike American Indian Tribes. Furthermore, the Tribes recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs are not racially exclusive and the Native Hawaiian government would be race based.
It’s worth remembering that Hawaii joined the United States in 1959. Many at the time, on both sides of the political and ideological spectrum, saw it as the triumph of American values:
Hawaii is America in a microcosm – a melting pot of many racial and national origins, from which has been produced a common nationality, a common patriotism, a common faith in freedom and the institutions of America. – Senator Herbert Lehman (D-NY), Congressional Record, April 1, 1954, at 4325.
Hawaii is living proof that people of all races, cultures and creeds can live together in harmony and well-being, and that democracy as advocated by the United States has in fact afforded a solution to some of the problems constantly plaguing the world. – Testimony of John A. Burns, Delegate to Congress from the Territory of Hawaii, before the Senate Committee on the Interior and Insular Affairs, April 1, 1957.
An overwhelming 94.3% of Hawaiians at the time voted for statehood, knowing full well that they would be embracing the American values of freedom and equality of all people regardless of race, class, or ethnic group. Further, nowhere in the debate for Hawaiian statehood did any U.S. Member of Congress suggest that the U.S. treat the so-called Native Hawaiians like an indigenous Indian tribe. Common decency and the U.S. Constitution prohibit the government from bestowing tailored rights or privileges upon one racial or ethnic group at the expense of others. Former Attorney General Ed Meese and Heritage legal scholar Todd Gaziano explain that:
The Fourteenth Amendment was adopted precisely to prevent a state from excluding certain of its residents from the privileges and immunities of citizenship, especially on the basis of race or ethnicity…All United States citizens who reside in Hawaii are equally citizens of Hawaii and are entitled to enjoy all the privilege and immunities common to other citizens, including the protection against discriminatory laws—especially racially-discriminatory laws.
All Americans, regardless of their policy preferences, should be outraged at the prospects of a law that promotes benefits and extra-constitutional sovereignty to a class of people simply because of their racial or ethnic background. Preserving the indigenous Hawaiian culture is a worthy end, but ignoring the governing law of the land and the U.S. Constitution by administering a racial purity test is not the way to do that.