HONOLULU — The Hawaii attorney who helped convince the U.S. Supreme Court that "Native Hawaiian" is a racial and not a political or tribal status wants the Bush administration to embrace that ruling as policy and cut off all federal funding designated for Native Hawaiians.
"I'm doing it because of a commitment I have to the civil rights laws of our country and to our Constitution," said John Goemans. He represented Hawaii Island rancher Harold "Freddy" Rice's challenge of Hawaiians-only voting for trustees of the state's Office of Hawaiian Affairs that resulted in the high court's Feb. 23, 2000, ruling.
"That was my motivation in the Rice case and my motivation now where there is clear racial discrimination in Hawaii," he said.
Goemans this week sent letters to four Bush Cabinet heads, filing an "administrative charge" of racial discrimination and demanding that federal funding supporting Native Hawaiian programs be terminated.
"All of the civil rights acts provide for official enforcement against racial discrimination, and these agencies have an obligation to enforce these laws," he said.
Goemans is challenging federal funding to the University of Hawaii, which he said grants tuition waivers for Native Hawaiians, a $400 million federal loan to provide fiberoptic lines to some 20,000 Hawaiian homes, a 400-home Hawaiian Homes project that he said violates the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the federal tax-exempt status for the private Kamehameha Schools, which restricts admission to students of Hawaiian ancestry.
Deputy Chairwoman Jobie Yamaguchi of the state's Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which is sponsoring the Hawaiian housing project, said the Rice v. Cayetano decision specifically pertained to voting rights, and she believes Goemans is incorrect in suggesting it applies to all Hawaiian programs.
The issue of whether the Fair Housing Act applies to Hawaiian Homes projects has already been submitted to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has decided it does not, she said.
University spokesman Jim Manke said between 7,400 and 7,500 students systemwide get partial or full tuition waivers, including about 1,200 Native Hawaiians.
"But the financial aid is in no case based on ethnicity and in most cases is based on financial need," he said. "Any tuition waivers that go to Native Hawaiians are based either on financial need or merit and not on ethnicity."
Goemans may have a strong ally in the Bush administration to press his complaints. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, the administration's top attorney, as a private attorney argued on Rice's behalf before the Supreme Court.
Goemans told Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill that the U.S. Departments of Education and Defense have notified Kamehameha Schools they would not longer provide financial assistance because of the admissions policy.
"As a result, Kamehameha Schools publicly announced they will no longer participate in those federally financed programs specifically to assure continued exemption from taxation," Goemans wrote. "The conflict between the actions of the (schools') trustees in falsely declaring to the Internal Revenue Service that they do no discriminate by race while simultaneously ending those federally financed programs when challenged is clear."
Kekoa Paulsen, a spokesman for Kamehameha Schools, said the trustees and school officials would have no comment until they have seen a copy of Goemans' letter.