Today the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the resolution Congress passed in 1993 to apologize for U.S. involvement in the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy—a determination that remains controversial among historians—did not affect Hawaii’s sovereign authority to sell or transfer the lands that the United States had granted to the State at the time of its admission to the Union. In an opinion by Justice Alito, the Court correctly explained that the words of the Apology Resolution were conciliatory and hortatory, creating no substantive rights—and indeed the resolution’s operative clauses differ starkly from those which provided compensation to, for example, the Japanese-Americans interned during World War II.
Importantly, the Court also noted that it would “raise grave constitutional concerns” if any act of Congress purported to cloud Hawaii’s title to sovereign lands so long after its admission to the Union. This last point is perhaps most important to the ongoing debate over the “Akaka Bill,” which would create a race-based entity to extract political and economic concessions from the state and federal governments on behalf of ill-defined “native Hawaiians.” It is delicious irony that Hawaii’s attorney general, Mark Bennett, an Akaka Bill supporter, secured this victory.
Just as Hawaii is now allowed to develop state lands for the benefit of all its citizens, hopefully Congress will in future refrain from inflaming racial divisions and instead treat all Hawaiians, regardless of race, with the legal equality to which they are entitled.
Further Cato materials on the above: Here’s our brief in the case, Hawaii v. Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Here are articles I wrote on the case and on the on the Akaka Bill. Here is a write-up of a debate I had at the University of Hawaii last month. Finally, here is a podcast I did for the Grassroot Institute (Hawaii’s free-market think tank) – where, among other things, I correctly predicted the Court’s vote today and the scope of its opinion.