‘Glittering Generalities’ and Hawaii

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Five years ago the United States Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) policy of only letting native Hawaiians vote in its elections. The Court declared that the policy of OHA, an agency of the state of Hawaii, was in violation of the 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling was 7-2 with John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissenting. In his dissent Stevens wrote that the majority decision “rests largely on the repetition of glittering generalities that have little, if any, application to the compelling history of the state of Hawaii.”

In response to this ruling some in Hawaii have voiced their support of defining native Hawaiians as a tribal group similar to that of American Indians. For example, the new Hawaiian Law Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (Oahu) is going to pursue this line of thought. One course to be offered by the Center next semester is “Principles of Federal Indian Law as Applied in the Native Hawaiian Context.” The Center