April 27, 1999
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON, D.C. ---- FALEOMAVAEGA EXPRESSES CONCERN WITH
POTENTIAL U.S. SUPREME COURT RULING
IN CASE ON NATIVE HAWAIIANS
Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he has written Governor Tauese Sunia forwarding to him a decision by a U.S. Court of Appeals upholding special elections in the State of Hawaii for trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, who must be Hawaiian. A different decision in the case would place in question not only the election of the trustees in Hawaii, but also the Samoan system of land tenure and chief titles.
"While I am pleased with the decision of the courts so far," said Faleomavaega, "last month the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and that court can obviously overturn the decision of the lower courts."
The case was brought in federal court by a palagi U.S. citizen challenging the legality of the State of Hawaii to hold elections in which only Hawaiians can vote. These special elections are for the election of trustees who govern the use of public lands held in trust for Native Hawaiians. The trialcourt ruled that the special elections were legal and the appeals court upheld that decision.
"Should the Supreme Court rule against the Native Hawaiians and hold that this U.S. citizen was being discriminated against, the decision will have far reaching implications for American Samoa's future -- as this would allow any U.S. citizen living in American Samoa to challenge American Samoa's laws," continued the Congressman. The citizen would not necessarily have to be a palagi, it could be a Vietnamese-American, African-American, Chinese- American, Korean-American, or a U.S. citizen of any racial background.
If the Supreme Court were to rule against the Native Hawaiians, the decision may also give U.S. citizens legal grounds to challenge the rights of American Indians, who supposedly are given special rights under the U.S. constitution. We have been told we also have some of these special rights.
"This raises my concern because legal scholars in the U.S. do not consider our "treaties" with the U.S. to be "treaties" in the technical sense, but "deeds of cession", which are considered of lesser authority than the U.S. Constitution. Should the courts interpret the U.S. Constitution differently, the U.S. will have to adjust its policy, which may not always be in the best interests of the Samoan people," concluded Faleomavaega.
For those wishing more information on the case, the opinion of the appeals court can be found at Rice v. Cayetano, 146 F.3d 1075 (9th Cir. 1998), cert. granted, 119 U.S. 1248 (1999). Printed copies are available at either of the Congressman's offices.