Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 16, 2005

Legality of Akaka bill to be debated

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer


The Akaka bill is known formally as S. 147, or the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2005
In the U.S. Senate: Debate is expected to begin on the floor late Monday. Clyde Namu'o, administrator for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said he has been told to be in the Senate gallery from 4 p.m. (EDT), or 10 a.m. (Hawai'i time). Debate is anticipated to continue intermittently through Wednesday, when a vote is expected.
In the U.S. House: The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution will hold a hearing at 2 p.m. Tuesday. The topic: "Can Congress Create a Race-Based Government? The Constitutionality of H.R. 309 and S. 147, the 'Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2005.' "

Some Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives may be preparing to fight the Akaka bill, which is expected to come to a vote in the Senate next week.

The House Judiciary subcom- mittee on the Constitution has scheduled a hearing Tuesday on whether the bill is constitutional. The measure would recognize Native Hawaiians as an indigenous people and would create a process for Hawaiians to form their own government.

The judiciary subcommittee cannot block the bill's progress in the House since the House Resources Committee has jurisdiction over the measure, but the timing of the hearing suggests that opponents may be sending a message.

The Akaka bill, named for its main sponsor, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, has languished in the Senate since 2000 because of opposition from those who view it as a race-based initiative.

"The request for the hearing was certainly initiated by those that oppose the Akaka bill because those that support the bill, including myself, don't question the constitutionality of the bill," said U.S. Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawai'i. "Either the external opposition prevailed upon that chair to at least hold the hearing, or the members of that committee on the majority side have some opposition to the bill. But thus far, there's no reason to conclude that."

Case added: "My own feeling is that it is an accommodation to external opposition to the bill."

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, agreed.

"It's more of an academic exercise," he said. Given that most of Hawai'i's elected officials of various ideological stripes support it, "those raising the question, it seems to me, are on the extreme margins — rather obsessively I would think — on this issue."

H. William Burgess, head of Aloha for All, which opposes the Akaka bill, said he was invited to testify at the hearing along with state Attorney General Mark Bennett and Washington, D.C.-based attorney Bruce Fein. Bennett will represent the state, which supports the bill. Fein is a paid consultant for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, which opposes the bill.

"This is an excellent opportunity to put before Congress and the public on a national stage the radical nature of what the Akaka bill proposes," Burgess wrote to members of his organization.

While the bill passed the House in 2000, and has had the support of the Resources Committee, Case said he expects some Republican objections.

"I obviously expect some opposition," he said. "I do not believe it is anywhere close to a majority of the House. I believe the support is there."

Officials from the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs hope that if the bill is approved by the Senate next week it could get to the floor of the House as early as the end of the month.

"There's a possibility it would be before the August recess," Case said. "Other than that, we would hope to bring it to a vote in September."

Most of the political focus has been on the Senate, but conservative Republicans in the House have also had concerns about the bill.

U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, raised early constitutional questions. U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, the chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, has tended to favor a strict reading of the Constitution and is critical of what he believes are activist judges who interpret broader rights into the law.

In Honolulu, board members for OHA were preparing for the trip to Washington, D.C., for last-minute lobbying and to witness the Senate vote. Gov. Linda Lingle also is scheduled to go.

"The U.S. Senate debate and vote would culminate five years, almost to the date, since the introduction of federal legislation to extend recognition to Native Hawaiians and to reaffirm the legal and political relationship of Native Hawaiians with the United States," said OHA chairwoman Haunani Apoliona.