Politics & Policy

A Race-Based State

Hawaii wants a segregation that would boggle your mind.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the July 18, 2005, issue of National Review.

Republicans have shown precious little courage in fighting government policies that distribute benefits based on race in recent years. There have been no legislative efforts to rein in racial preferences in federal contracts, and the Bush administration gave a qualified blessing to racial preferences in college admissions when the Supreme Court was considering the issue. Now we are going to see whether Republicans can at least oppose the creation of new race-based subsidies.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, a Democrat from Hawaii, is sponsoring a bill to create a race-based government for “Native Hawaiians.” It may well pass, thanks to the support it has gotten from a few Republicans, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Norm Coleman of Minnesota.

Hawaii has an Office of Hawaiian Affairs that provides benefits to “Native Hawaiians” — that is, to descendants of the racial majority of the islands at the time they became part of the United States. Until recently, the board of the agency was restricted to Native Hawaiians, and only Native Hawaiians were allowed to vote in elections for board members. In 2000, however, the Supreme Court ruled (over the dissent of two liberals) that the racial restrictions on voting violated the Fifteenth Amendment. (That’s the one that, well, prohibits racial restrictions on voting.) In the course of explaining their decision, the justices cast doubt on the constitutionality of the whole scheme of benefits for Native Hawaiians.

The Akaka bill heads off the threat of colorblind government by treating Native Hawaiians as akin to an Indian tribe. The tribes get to govern themselves. Under the bill, Native Hawaiians would be treated similarly–or so the bill’s supporters claim . . .

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Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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