Divvying Us Up By Race - Native Hawaiian Style

Chief Justice John Roberts once famously quipped, “it’s a sordid business, this divvying us up by race.” He did so in the context of the Supreme Court case LULAC v. Perry, and the application of the Voting Rights Act to carve up Congressional districts in Texas based heavily on racial composition – in which phrases like “majority-minority districts,” and “candidates of choice” are the operative phrases.

Yesterday, the Democrat-led U.S. House of Representatives voted basically along party lines, 245 to 164, to divide Americans up by race even further, and design governments according to individual heritage.

Sound bizarre? It is, but it is indeed what is happening.

The House believes it is a priority for Americans to pass legislation that will create an unconstitutional, separate, race-based government for individuals who are descendants of native Hawaiians. Indeed, the bill defines the group that can qualify thusly: anyone who is “a direct lineal descendant of the aboriginal, native people who – resided in the islands that now comprise the State of Hawaii on or before January 1, 1893.”

There were, however, a few heroes in the debate. Steve King, from Iowa, pointed out the absurdity of looking backward over 100 years to balkanize our nation. He pointed out that the entire thrust of this bill is divisive and that we should be continuing to assimilate, not breaking us up by race. And others joined in the fight as well, such as Congressman Tom McClintock.

Most notably, an amendment was offered by Congressman Hastings that would have simply required that this bill pass through a referendum of the people of Hawaii and it was rejected, again, essentially along the same party lines. Yet, according to Zogby, while only 34% of Hawaiians support the federal bill, 58% of Hawaiians would like a referendum. And more, the Governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle, has issued a statement in opposition to the bill.

This is not the first time this issue has been raised. I had the privilege of working with a merry band of brothers in a then Republican-led Senate back in 2006 to kill the Senate version of this bill promoted by Senator Akaka. The problems with the bill today are virtually identical as then.

For example, the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) is opposed to the legislation. In August of 2009, it wrote a letter to Congressional leaders voicing that opposition, and in it, cited to its statement from 2006, in which the Commission wrote:

“The Commission recommends against passage of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act … or any 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.”

And, as Americans, this must be the analysis, no? Can it be any other way? Our nation’s greatness is measured in large part by its commitment to equality – that is, equality under the law, not guaranteed outcome. It is that we strive to see ourselves equally through the eyes of government – and because of that, we are left to rise and fall on our own merit. We have come a long way from a nation that while declaring all men to be created equal, embraced slavery. It has not been an easy road, but surely that road cannot included, in 2010 America, a federal law that would actually reach back to 1893 to carve out a group of people based on their race – their blood – to constitute them separately, and arguably unconstitutionally as a separate people?

As the USCCR noted in its 2009 letter:

In closing we would like to point out that in 1840, the Kingdom of Hawaii adopted a Constitution with a bicameral, multi-racial legislature. The Constitution was signed by two hands—that of Kamehameha’s son King Kamehameha III and that of the holder of the second-highest office in the nation, Keoni Ana, the son of the British-born Hawaiian Minister John Young. Its opening sentence, the substance of which was suggested by an American missionary, was based loosely on a Biblical verse: “Ua hana mai ke Akua i na lahuikanaka a pau i ke koko hookahi, e noho like lakou ma ka honua nei me ke kuikahi, a me ka pomaikai.” Translated, the passage might read: “God has made of one blood all races of people to dwell upon this Earth in unity and blessedness.”