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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 5:19 p.m., Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Justice Department advises Senate to reject Akaka bill

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

On the eve of a crucial vote, the U.S. Department of Justice late today issued a letter to Senate leaders stating that the Bush Administration "strongly opposes" passage of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, better known as the Akaka bill.

Assistant Attorney General William E. Moschella cited a report issued last month by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission recommending that senators reject the bill, which initiates a process that would lay the groundwork toward establishing of a federally recognized Native Hawaiian entity.

The report, Moschella noted, said the bill could lead to "further subdivide(ing) the American people into discrete subgroups accorded varying degrees of privilege."

Moschella's two-paragraph letter was addressed to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. A copy was sent to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who leads the Democratic caucus. A cloture vote set for tomorrow will determine whether the Akaka bill will finally get a Senate vote after a number of failed attempts over the last six years.

Moschella also cited a quote from Bush that said "we must ... honor the great American tradition of the melting pot." Moschella wrote: "This bill would reverse that great American tradition and divide people by their race."

Supporters of the Akaka bill say the bill goes a long way toward rectifying the wrongs of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and is necessary to stave off legal challenges raised against programs that give preference to Hawaiians. Some opponents counter that it flies against the concept of equal treatment for all in order to discriminate in favor of Hawaiians. Other opponents maintain that the bill does not go far enough in addressing wrongs tied to the overthrow.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs Administrator Clyde Namu'o said while he was disappointed with Moschella's letter, it is the Office of Management and Budget and not the Justice Department, that speaks for President Bush.

Further, Namu'o said, it is OHA's understanding that Moschella's letter was based on the current draft of the Akaka bill and not a proposed amended version of the bill designed to address the concerns raised by the Justice Department and other opponents.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 525-8026.