Civil rights commission should reflect Hawaii's diverse views
THE U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has appointed 14 new members to its Hawaii State Advisory Committee. Some of these new members have opposed the Akaka Bill in the past. In its July 17 editorial
, "New civil rights panel might not reflect local sentiment," the Star-Bulletin expressed concern that "instead of reflecting the Akaka Bill's popularity in Hawaii," the advisory committee will instead be merely a "debating club" reflecting diverse points of view. The article asserts that the Commission on Civil Rights "appears to have opted for a balance between pros and cons and departed from its 'eyes and ears' doctrine."
This editorial reflects a misunderstanding of the role of the HISAC and suggests an approach to public debate that is at odds with America's best ideals.
THERE IS NO inconsistency between the HISAC's "eyes and ears" function as the USCCR's observer and reporter of civil rights issues in the islands and its function as a forum for debate and analysis of those issues. Eyes and ears can be untrustworthy when the data are not processed through brains. Reflecting this, federal law and regulations mandate both the reportorial and analytical functions for the USCCR's state advisory committees,.
The importance of diversity of views and independence of thought for USCCR state advisory committees was reaffirmed in the recent Government Accountability Office report cited in the Star-Bulletin editorial. The report pointed out that under federal law, advisory committees such as the HISAC are to "have a balanced representation of views" and "exercise independent judgment without inappropriate influence from the appointing agency or any other party." That GAO report noted approvingly that "(USCCR) policy explicitly requires state advisory committees to incorporate balanced, varied, and opposing perspectives in their hearings and reports."
One central reason for such diversity and debate is that the HISAC has a job to do for the USCCR in support of that commission's federal statutory mandate. As provided by the committee's charter and subject to commission oversight, the advisory committee may choose, or may be called upon, to advise the commission on a wide variety of issues concerning civil rights. The credibility and usefulness of the HISAC's reports to the USCCR depend on the open-mindedness and intellectual integrity of the committee's membership. Diversity of viewpoints and robust debate foster these qualities.
THE STAR-BULLETIN'S editorial seems to suggest that the HISAC should report to Washington what is perceived to be the prevailing or popular sentiment in the islands as expressed in a recent poll supporting the Akaka Bill, apparently without the clutter of dissenting or varying opinions. This is a dangerous standard of reportage, and one which can only undermine the reporter's credibility. There is no universal opinion in the islands on the Akaka Bill. There are other polls than the one cited in the editorial, and they have come to varying conclusions. Many of Hawaii's citizens have spoken out strongly and publicly against the Akaka Bill.
An accurate report to Washington would reflect these various views, not ignore or mask them. As a nation, through our Constitution, we are philosophically committed to vigorous and public debate on vital issues. That principle should continue to guide us.
Paul M. Sullivan is one of the new members of the Hawaii Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He has lived and practiced law on Oahu since 1982.