- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Hawaiian Sen. Daniel Akaka’s seven-year project, the “Native Hawaiian Governmental Reorganization Act” often called simply the Akaka bill, has been labeled many things — from manifest destiny in reverse to unhinged multiculturalism — but what it really is is an attempt to legalize and codify what the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in 2000: a race-based government.

The case of Rice v. Cayetano, which came to the Supreme Court from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, challenged the policy established by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs of allowing only native Hawaiians to vote for its trustees. In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court decided that the “Hawaiian only” policy violated the 15th Amendment, overturning the 9th Circuit decision and striking down the voting restriction. Mr. Akaka’s legislation would bestow autonomy on native Hawaiians similar to that of American Indians or Native Alaskans — a precedent of sovereignty that the Supreme Court has recognized.

In his push to get the legislation back on the Senate’s agenda, Mr. Akaka asserted that, “those who characterize this bill as race-based fail to understand the federal policies towards indigenous peoples.” The language of the bill, however, defines “Native Hawaiians” in terms of lineage, but does not include a host of other factors that are generally used to characterize American Indians. As the bill does not include as a prerequisite the participation in a specific community, a native Hawaiian governing entity could include the 240,000 native Hawaiians living in Hawaii or all of the 400,000 native Hawaiians living across the United States — the latter making it the more populous than the largest Indian tribe.

It is clear that, as Sen. Lamar Alexander, an ardent opponent of the bill, told an audience at the Heritage Foundation last week, if the bill passed, “for the first time in American history… it would establish a new sovereign nation within the United States based solely on race.” In January, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights lodged its opposition to the bill, associating it with “other legislation that would discriminate on the basis of race or national origin and further subdivide the American people into discrete subgroups accorded varying degrees of privilege.”

Postponed indefinitely by Hurricane Katrina, the Akaka bill is scheduled to come to the floor when the Senate returns next week. Mr. Akaka has referred to the bill as “my efforts to bring parity to Native Hawaiians.” But no matter how thickly veiled the legislation may be in the multicultural rhetoric of making up for past wrongs, the bill smacks of a divisive move toward racial separation, not inclusion.

The Akaka bill subverts the ideal of equality without racial distinction toward which America strives. Mr. Akaka’s legislation should not have proceeded this far, and deserves to be firmly defeated.

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