Native Hawaiian history and rights took center stage during Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Native Hawaiians raised concerns over Kavanaugh’s record prior to his appointment as a federal appeals court judge in 2006. In private practice, Kavanaugh co-wrote a legal brief to the U.S. Supreme Court for the Rice v. Cayetano case in 1999. His brief argued that OHA’s Native Hawaiian-only elections violated the 14th and 15th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. He then wrote a provocative op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in which he called OHA “a racial-spoils system” and Hawai‘i’s “system of racial separatism.”
During the Senate Judiciary Committee‘s confirmation hearing, Hawai‘i Sen. Mazie Hirono grilled the judge over his views on Native Hawaiian rights and history. She also released a confidential e-mail Kavanaugh wrote when he worked for President George W. Bush’s administration in which he questioned the constitutionality of federal Native Hawaiian programs.
On Sept. 13, OHA Chair Colette Machado released the following statement:
“The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) joins U.S Senator Mazie Hirono in calling the nation’s attention to Judge Kavanaugh’s extreme positions on Native peoples in general and Native Hawaiians in particular. The record now reflects that Judge Kavanaugh holds long-standing views about Native Hawaiians that mirror positions taken by organizations whose goals include stripping Native peoples and nations of their dignity as sovereign entities within the United States, contrary to settled United States policies towards Native Americans. Judge Kavanaugh has demonstrated a low level of knowledge about the history of Native Hawaiians and their pre-existing sovereignty well before western contact. His nomination is alarming to all American Indians, Alaskan Natives and Native Hawaiians.”
At the time of printing, Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination was still being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but may be voted on by the full Senate as soon as the last week of September.