Friday, July 25, 2003

Federal lawyers take up
legality of Akaka Bill

Lingle says she views
the Justice Department
analysis as progress

The U.S. Department of Justice is questioning Congress's authority to pass the so-called Akaka Bill granting federal recognition to native Hawaiians, Gov. Linda Lingle said yesterday.

"My understanding now is, it's an issue of whether or not Congress has the authority under the Indian Commerce Clause of the Constitution to grant this type of recognition to native Hawaiians," Lingle said.

"I think that could be a plus. It's getting away from the race-based issue and talking about a different legal issue," she said.

Lingle's comments came the day after Hawaii's congressional delegation met with Justice Department officials to discuss the bill.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said through a spokeswoman that a host of issues were discussed, but it did not seem that a formal position had been taken by the Justice Department on any of the issues.

He said there apparently will be more meetings and further discussion.

Lingle said she has been in touch with Inouye and Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, who now do not believe the Akaka bill will get a Senate vote before the month-long August recess.

The Republican governor had planned to travel to Washington, D.C., next week to lobby Republican lawmakers to support the bill if it was to be taken up before the recess.

"So that means we will now focus on the month of September and use the month of August to continue to lobby both at the administrative level and the Senate level," she said.

The governor said she expects to travel to Arizona in August to talk with Arizona's Sen. Jon Kyl, "who is one of the Republicans who has concerns about the bill."

Akaka's office issued a statement about Wednesday's meeting with Justice Department officials.

"We helped the department to better understand the history of Hawaii and the importance of this legislation to the people of Hawaii," Akaka said. "The department provided us with a clearer picture of the analysis that is currently under way by both legal and policy analysts."

Inouye described it as "a most promising meeting."

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie said that if the Bush administration supports the bill, it will pass easily.

"Our meeting gave us a chance to convey to senior administration policy-makers the deep emotional commitment of Hawaii people of all races to justice for native Hawaiians," Abercrombie, D-Urban Honolulu, said.

The bill would establish an office in the Department of the Interior to address native Hawaiian issues and create an interagency group composed of representatives of federal agencies that currently administer programs and policies affecting native Hawaiians.

In effect the federal government would recognize Hawaiians as a native population, as they already do American Indians and Native Alaskans.

Critics of the proposal object because they say it legitimizes race-based preferences. They point to the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Feb. 23, 2000, Rice vs. Cayetano decision, which struck down the Hawaiians-only requirement to vote in an OHA election as racial discrimination in voting.


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