by Sean Aronson, president, ACS student chapter at University of Hawaii at Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law
The Hawaiian Kingdom existed as a sovereign nation for nearly one hundred years (1795 – 1893) before the United States overthrew the Kingdom in an illegal, bloodless coup d’état. Although the United States apologized for this illegal act in 1993, to date the U.S. has not offered any compensation or redress for it. The overthrow still casts a long shadow in Hawaii and divides the people, with some who question the state judiciary as a legitimate body. Just last month Native Hawaiians met to form an independent government with a separate constitution.
On November 27, 2015, First Circuit Court Judge Jeanette Castagnetti issued a ruling, ordering the state legislature to provide sufficient funding to the State Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL) which is constitutionally mandated to “enable native Hawaiians to return to their lands in order to fully support self-sufficiency for native Hawaiians.” Judge Castagnetti ruled legislators would have to make available $18 million to DHHL this year to comply with Article XII of the Hawaii State Constitution, which requires the legislature to “make sufficient sums available” for the department’s administrative and operating budget. Many legislators viewed this decision as an intrusion into their legislative powers and sought retaliation through a series of proposed bills attacking the judiciary.
The attacks began with a judicial elections bill that proposed open voting on judicial positions by the general electorate. The subsequent hearing saw Hawaii’s tight-knit legal community come out strong in opposition. After a meeting to discuss strategy, Richardson School of Law ACS chapter and individual students submitted testimony in opposition to the open elections initiative. The bill was defeated on the senate floor, but the struggle continued through an attack on the retention process. The senate quickly pushed through a bill that would require a senate hearing for every judicial reappointment. The proposed bill also required a reappointment hearing every six years, instead of the present 10 years. That bill was also defeated.