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Wednesday, August 3, 2005
She noted that the ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could be helpful in the sense that it "will definitely bring to light the issues of what this bill does and what it would establish."
Yesterday's ruling said Kamehameha's admission policy granting preferences to Hawaiians amounted to unlawful racial discrimination.
Akaka could not be reached for comment, but he issued a statement, noting that the ruling "remained silent" on recognizing a legal and political relationship between native Hawaiians and the federal government -- a relationship that would be formalized under his proposed legislation.
The ruling states that "it remains unclear whether the United States government enjoys a trust relationship with native Hawaiians similar to that enjoyed with organized tribes."
Opponents of the Akaka Bill say the 9th Circuit's ruling should send a clear message to federal lawmakers to defeat the measure.
"The one thing it'll do is discredit, I think, the main argument that the proponents of the Akaka Bill make," said H. William Burgess, a Honolulu attorney who has worked on cases challenging Hawaiian preferences. "They (proponents) say that native Hawaiians are just the same as Native Americans and Native Alaskans and the 9th Circuit said, 'No.'"
Supporters and opponents are likely to ramp up public debate as the U.S. Senate approaches a possible floor vote on the Akaka Bill next month.
Debate and a vote on the bill was expected on the Senate floor last month, but action was delayed by majority Republicans who raised concerns over the measure. Its next hurdle comes Sept. 6, when the Senate is scheduled to vote on a move to force debate, followed by a vote by the full Senate.
"I would assume the people against the Akaka Bill will use this decision in arguing that they're correct -- that the Akaka Bill, which is race-based, is inherently unconstitutional," said Rick Castberg, a political scientist at the University of Hawaii-Hilo. "For those who are in favor of the Akaka Bill, it would give them even more incentive to try to get the bill passed.
"The bottom line in this ruling is that you basically can't make a lot of decisions based on race," he added. "On the other hand, if the Akaka Bill did pass, it might make this decision by the 9th Circuit more likely to be overturned by the Supreme Court, because ... it would be fairly clear at that point then that the United States Congress is recognizing the native Hawaiians in a manner similar to Native Americans."