The U.S. Senate is scheduled tomorrow to decide whether to clear the way for the most odious, anti-American piece of legislation in memory: S. 147, the "Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act." Incredibly, as of now, more than 61 senators are expected to vote to begin a process that would ineluctably unravel the United States as a nation.
This legislation has been advanced in the spirit of pandering that has come to characterize all too much of our national political life. In this case, the pandering is on behalf of an ethnic community that is largely a figment of some politicians' imaginations -- a once-sovereign, identifiably blooded race of "Native Hawaiians" that are, if S. 147 were to become law, to be given the right to govern themselves as they see fit. This could involve creating a new Hawaiian monarchy and perhaps lead to the islands' secession from the Union.
Hawaii's longtime Democratic Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye are leading the charge for S. 147. The latter has considerable influence within his party and across the aisle as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. They are joined by the State's Republican Gov. Linda Lingle. Her political ambitions and appeals for support from the Bush White House have borne Republican fruit. In particular, the administration again has demonstrated its willingness to subordinate national interests to playing for ethnic votes.
The result is a clearly unconstitutional effort to legislatively manufacture a new "tribe" out of one of the most heterogenous and fully assimilated populations in America: people who can claim through one of two qualifications to have had something to do with Hawaii. S. 147 would designate as a "Native Hawaiian" anyone who is:
(1) one of the "indigenous, native people of Hawaii" and who is a "direct lineal descendant of the aboriginal, indigenous, native people who" resided in the Hawaiian Islands on or before Jan. 1, 1893, and "exercised sovereignty" in the same region; or (2) eligible in 1921 for the programs authorized by the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act -- that is, "any descendant of not less than one-half of the blood of the races inhabiting the Hawaiian Islands previous to 1778."
Absent from this definition are any characteristics previously required for a Native American tribe to be recognized as such. For example, a "Native Hawaiian" need not demonstrate: residency in Hawaii (either currently or at any time in the past), ties to a particular traditional culture or language, or any documented involvement or interest in Hawaiian, much less Native Hawaiian, community or political affairs. This is not an accident. The law could not establish such conditions because it would be difficult to constitute a tribe if they applied.
Instead, S. 147 uses as its test for membership in the so-called "sovereign" Native Hawaiian "race" what amounts to the ability to claim a one-drop-of-blood connection to a "aboriginal, indigenous, and native person" who lived in Hawaii at the designated times. This test is complicated by two inconvenient facts: The "Native Hawaiian's" governing regime was a monarchy -- under which sovereignty resided in a single individual, not in a people -- and it was not racially based. And since the 19th century, the Hawaiian "people" included many native-born and naturalized subjects who were Americans, Chinese, Samoans, etc., not "ethnic" Hawaiians.
As it happens, in 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an earlier effort by Hawaii to create a state-sanctioned, race-based entity composed solely of Native Hawaiians (defined in a manner similar to S. 147). The court -- citing the Constitution's 15th Amendment, which forbids discrimination in voting based on race -- ruled such a race-based government in Hawaii was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court stated:
"One of the reasons race is treated as a forbidden classification is that it demeans the dignity and worth of a person to be judged by ancestry instead of by his or her own merit and essential qualities. An inquiry into ancestral lines is not consistent with respect based on the unique personality each of us possesses, a respect the Constitution itself secures in its concern for persons and citizens. ... [To do so would be] odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality."
Should senators violate their oath of office -- which obliges them to "support and defend the Constitution" -- by enacting S. 147, they will invite an even greater problem down the road. Other self-designating communities can be expected to demand recognition of their rights to have their own government and sovereign laws. These might include Chicanos, Cajuns, Amish and Puerto Ricans.
Given the contortions involved in identifying, let alone conferring sovereignty upon, a "Native Hawaiian" community, who is to say other groups won't demand the right to govern themselves by their own rules, as well? Already, Islamists in Canada and elsewhere demand to have their affairs adjudicated by Shari'a -- a religious code that, taken to its extreme, produces Talibanlike repression of women and other living things. Lest we think it couldn't happen in a society like ours, international protests against the establishing Shari'a-ruled communities will be held Thursday across Canada and in France, Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands.
No good can come of a "yes" vote on S. 147. It will be a black day for the Senate and the United States of America if a cloture-breaking majority of senators casts it.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.