On Friday, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission held a hearing on Sen. Daniel Akaka's bill (see Aug. 17) to create a newly recognized federal tribal entity to represent ethnically native Hawaiians. Commission member Abigail Thernstrom, a Manhattan Institute fellow, expressed skepticism over the measure, saying she was "very unhappy about what I regard as proposals for race-based governments. This is not the way I want this country to go, and I would like to see some acknowledgement that the story of governance of Indian tribes in this country has not worked out well," Thernstrom said.
One of the witnesses speaking before the commission on Friday was University of San Diego law professor Gail Heriot, who has (OL Sept. 1 and links from there) been among the most outspoken critics of the Akaka bill. In the newest installment in our Point of Law column feature, Prof. Heriot argues that the bill is a dangerous end run around Supreme Court decisions which endanger the "ethnic spoils system" that has prevailed in Hawaiian politics. "By retroactively creating an Indian tribe out of individuals who are already full citizens of both the United States and the State of Hawaii, and who do not have a long and continuous history of separate self-governance, the Akaka bill will be breaking new ground." Other groups could pick up on the precedent, subjecting the U.S. to yet further ethnic balkanization.