Politics & Policy

Tribalizing Hawaii

The latest maneuver from the administration of President Obama, ever a composite political character, is an unfortunate combination of Chicago machine politics and Hawaiian ethnic grievances. The executive branch has announced that it’s considering recognizing Native Hawaiians, an ethnic group that makes up one fifth of the Aloha Isles’ population, as an autonomous political entity. This would give the group, currently represented by the state’s Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the right to construct a race-based government like an Indian tribe and, likely, all the privileges of that it may find profitable.

This execrable idea isn’t new: It was proposed repeatedly in Congress during the Bush years by an odd combination of racialist Democrats, Hawaiian political opportunists, and the islanders’ longtime Alaskan allies.

Congress’s bill by itself may well have been unconstitutional. The Obama administration’s proposal certainly is: The proposal to create a Native Hawaiian government resembles the recognition of Indian tribes by the federal government, but that specific process is rooted in the Constitution and was authorized and regulated by Congress.

Native Hawaiians are almost nothing like an Indian tribe. They make up a minority of the islands’ population and live distributed among non-native Hawaiians, whereas Indian tribes live in isolated and homogeneous communities. They aren’t, like American Indian tribes, a polity that preexists the Constitution; the kingdom of Hawaii was a multiethnic society, a society that eventually voted, overwhelmingly, to become a state. Creating a Native Hawaiian government would perversely mean that one Hawaiian would live under a different legal code from that of his neighbor merely because of their disparate ancestries — a race-based political system and the antithesis of American law and the intent of the Constitution.

That incongruity is why the Supreme Court held 7–2 in 2000 that the existing Native Hawaiian government-within-a-government, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, couldn’t hold elections restricted to Native Hawaiians, a blatant contradiction of the Fifteenth Amendment. That office controls the state land and resources that a hypothetical Native Hawaiian government would probably commandeer — hundreds of millions of dollars in wealth, intended for the benefit of natives, that the department has done a fine job of mismanaging for years. The new tribal government would likely have both sovereign immunity over those lands and all the privileges that come with it. The disruption this could cause Hawaii can’t be overstated: A large chunk of the islands would be able to set its own building codes, legalize gambling, and more, with most residents being barred from having a say in the matter because of the color of their skin.

The exact consequences of the proposed recognition of Native Hawaiians — as was the case with former senator Daniel Akaka’s congressional proposal to do so — aren’t clear. But the principle certainly is clear: A country that stretches to justify race-based preferences under the law would move to create within its borders not just race-based laws but an entirely new race-based government.

The Obama administration, perhaps aware of how offensive and impracticable the idea is, hasn’t yet entered the proposal into the Federal Register. The White House has merely released an excerpted draft from an “advanced notice of proposed rule making,” which the Office of Management and Budget will have to decide whether to formalize and open for comment. They lost us at Aloha.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

Most Popular


Holy Week with Saint Paul

Just the other day, I ordered a replacement copy of The Passion of the Christ -- it can be so impactful for Holy Week meditation. In the years since its release, it’s become something of required Lenten viewing for me. But this year, there is a new movie to help with prayer, Paul, Apostle of Christ, released ... Read More

Heckuva Job, Paul and Mitch

As Thursday's editorial makes clear, the omnibus spending bill is a disgrace. That may be why about 40 percent of Republicans (and 40 percent of Democrats) voted against it. Apart from the absence of a DACA/Dream amnesty, the immigration portions represent a comprehensive victory by the anti-enforcement crowd. ... Read More
White House

Bill Clinton Redux

Stormy Daniels could have stepped right out of the 1990s. She would have been a natural in a Bill Clinton scandal, and, in fact, all the same means would have been used against her. Donald Trump’s tactics in these cases are almost indistinguishable from the Clintons’. The effort to shut down the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

California’s Pro-Nuclear Renegade

If California’s upcoming gubernatorial race gets decided solely by money, Michael Shellenberger doesn’t have a chance. The latest campaign filings show that Shellenberger, an environmentalist from Berkeley, has about $37,000 in cash on hand. The frontrunner in the June 5 California primary, Lieutenant ... Read More

Encouraging Signs in Iraq

Last year, relations between the Iraqi central government and the Kurds reached what was possibly an all-time low when the Kurds held an independence referendum in which 93 percent of voters opted to secede. The timing was no coincidence: Iraqi forces had retreated from Kurdish territory in 2014 as the Islamic ... Read More