Is State Sovereignty a Possibility?

By Trustee Rowena Akana
September 8, 1994

Hawaii is a diverse, multifaceted culture, one that is distinct from that of the Mainland. Solutions to many of the problems concerning Hawaiian voters require a historical knowledge and cultural sensitivity that those who are not kamaaina simply do not have.

The unconstitutional procedure by which Hawaii was annexed to the United States of America offers Hawaii a unique opportunity to lead a renewed battle for the resurrection of the powerful principle of state sovereignty. The Constitution allows for the annexation of new territory by two means and by two means only, conquest and a treaty ratified by Congress. McKinley knew that he did not have the votes of 2/3rd of the Congress that he needed to ratify a treaty of annexation. Rather, he chose to pass a Joint Resolution calling for annexation. Although creative, this method is not provided for anywhere in the Constitution.

To the great l9th century orator, Stephen Douglas, states incorporated legally into the Union were co-equal and sovereign unto themselves. In his celebrated debates with Lincoln (echoing the Declaration of Independence which states that, “these United States are, and of right ought to be Free and Independent States”), Douglas said,

“This government was made upon the great basis of the sovereignty of the states, the right of each state to regulate its own domestic institutions to suit itself, and that right was conferred with the understanding and expectation that inasmuch as each locality had separate interests, each locality must have different and distinct local domestic institutions, corresponding to its wants and interests.”

In another speech during the debates Douglas added that “the (Founding Fathers) provided that each state should retain its own legislature, and its own sovereignty with the full and complete power to do as it pleased within its own limits.”

Despite these and many other ringing endorsements of state sovereignty, Article I section 8 of the Constitution (the “implied powers” clause), Article VI (the “supremacy” clause) and the 14th Amendment (guaranteeing equal protection under the law) are interpreted today as defensive of a strong Federal prerogative.

Hawaii, on the other hand, has a uniquely tenuous constitutional status as a member of the Union, which could conceivably make its exercise of state sovereignty very feasible. If enacted, Hawaii’s success or failure could serve as a model for the 49 other states. Our experiment could tell them whether or not they too wish to control their own destiny.

Too many of our hard-earned tax dollars are squandered annually supporting top-heavy Federal bureaucracy. Think of how much more we could do with that money if we kept it here, in Hawaii. Instead of wasting our money on pork barrel spending, we could fund projects that more accurately reflected the needs of local residents.

Increased state sovereignty for Hawaii would benefit all residents, Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians alike. The Sovereignty Movement would benefit from this new political relationship with Washington D.C. in a number of important ways. For instance, sovereign initiatives would not need to wait for recognition from the Federal government before they were considered “validated.” Furthermore, such perennially sticky questions such as the nature of the Federal government’s trust responsibility to Hawaiians and the Hawaiian’s right to sue for breach of trust would be moot.

The time has come for us to formulate a new political relationship that would enable these changes to take place and keep our kala where it belongs – at home. First and foremost, this means altering Hawaii’s relationship with Washington D.C. Federal power must be substantially weakened in favor of significantly broadened state power. This would increase both our fiscal independence and the autonomy of our legislation. With increased state power, local issues can be addressed by local people with local knowledge.