Justice Stevens recalls war years in Honolulu
By Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Courts Writer
By Ken Kobayashi
Associate Justice John Paul Stevens of the U.S. Supreme Court served at Pearl Harbor during World War II as part of the Naval intelligence code-breaking division. He recalls the days of martial law and nighttime blackouts for Honolulu, trips to Waikiki with a swimsuit and a towel instead of a gas mask in his gas mask pack, splurging on a $4 steak rather than the cheaper $3 steak meal.
Forty-five years later, Stevens would write the dissent in the high court's 7-2 decision in the Rice v. Cayetano case that struck down the requirement that only voters of Hawaiian ancestry could cast ballots for Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees, the most significant recent decision dealing with the rights of Native Hawaiians.
Yesterday, Stevens acknowledged that his years in Hawai'i helped shape his views in the dissent, which recognized Hawai'i's unique history as a reason to uphold the law. "I thought they (the majority) were adopting a rather formulistic approach to an issue that had particular significance to this particular area," Stevens said.
He said his experience here, as well as his days at Northwestern University law school, had "an impact."
Stevens, 87, an appointee of President Ford in 1975, is the oldest and longest-sitting justice on the nine-member U. S. Supreme Court.
He gave wide-ranging talks yesterday at both the annual U.S. 9th Circuit Judicial Conference at the Waikiki Sheraton and at a Hawai'i State Bar Association luncheon at the Moana Surfrider Hotel.
A gracious and soft-spoken gentleman who answered all questions, Stevens is widely considered part of the liberal minority of four justices who have been outvoted in 5-4 decisions with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the conservative bloc.
Stevens, however, downplayed what others say is the increased polarization of the court and even characterized himself more as a judicial conservative who views the court's role as refraining from issuing decisions that should be made by the legislative and executive branches of government.
Stevens, who also came to Hawai'i in the 1990s as part of a program at the University of Hawai'i law school, said that on this trip he visited Pearl Harbor for the first time since the war.
"It was a very moving experience," he said.
In the Rice decision, the majority held that limiting the OHA voting only to those with Hawaiian ancestry is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
"While splendidly acknowledging this history — specifically including the series of agreements and enactments the history reveals — the majority fails to recognize its import," he wrote.
"The descendants of the native Hawaiians share with the descendants of the Native Americans on the mainland or in the Aleutian Islands not only a history of subjugation at the hands of colonial forces, but also a purposefully created and specialized 'guardian-ward' relationship with the government of the United States."
He said he has "no doubt" his experiences here had an impact on his dissent.
On other topics:
Stevens received standing ovations after both of his talks.
ASSOCIATE JUSTICE JOHN PAUL STEVENS
Associate Justice John Paul Stevens of the U.S. Supreme Court has been involved in significant cases affecting Hawai'i during his tenure. Some of his votes:
Reach Ken Kobayashi at firstname.lastname@example.org.