Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Some senators are trying to push through a bill that would re-authorize the discriminatory housing policies implemented in Hawaii by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which provides special benefits for “Native Hawaiians.”  Native Hawaiians are defined as “any descendant of not less than one-half part of the blood of the races inhabiting the Hawaiian Islands previous to 1778.” According to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands’ website, this means “you must have a blood quantum of at least 50 percent Hawaiian.”

S.1352 has a seemingly innocuous provision, Section 503, which simply re-authorizes the Native Hawaiian Home-Ownership Act through 2018.  You have to dig into the existing federal law to find out that, under 25 U.S.C. §4223(d), Hawaii is exempt from the nondiscrimination requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act when it is distributing federal housing funds made available by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to “Native Hawaiians” or “a Native Hawaiian family.”

This exemption means the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands can discriminate in favor of “Native Hawaiians” and a “Native Hawaiian family” and against others such as whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians.  In other words, the federal government is authorizing Hawaii (and providing it with taxpayer funds) to engage in blatant discrimination by providing government benefits for some of its residents and denying federally funded benefits to others based solely on their ancestry and “blood quantum.”

The Equal Protection Clause of the post-Civil War 14th Amendment specifically was intended to stop laws that singled out Americans based on ancestry and blood quantum.  Yet Hawaii, with the approval of the federal government, has engaged in such reprehensible conduct for years.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a highly critical report in 2005 saying that Hawaii was “in a league by itself” when it comes to officially sanctioned discriminatory conduct. As the Commission pointed out, Hawaii administers a huge public trust worth billions of dollars that provides “benefits exclusively for ethnic Hawaiians.”  In discussing the proposed Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2005 (S.147), the commission recommended against “any other legislation that would discriminate on the basis of race or national origin and further subdivide the American people into discrete subgroups accorded varying degrees of privilege.”

S.1352 would re-authorize the Native Hawaiian Home-Ownership Act for another four years, specifically approving Hawaii’s official discrimination and exempting it from the requirements of the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act. No federal funds of any kind should be distributed in a manner that directly authorizes discriminatory conduct against American citizens based on their ancestry, race, or “blood quantum,” an appalling legal concept that was used by slave-owning Southern states prior to the Civil War to determine the legal rights (or lack of rights) of its residents.

As we mark the 50th anniversary this year of the Civil Rights Act, nothing could be a greater betrayal of that law than to revoke its protections for many residents of Hawaii and exempt Hawaii’s state government from its mandate that all Americans be treated equally under the law.