Race File

Race;Sovereignty; Justice

By Melia Franklin Dec 21, 1999


High Court Weighs the Future of Hawaiian Sovereignty
The U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to hear Rice v. Cayetano–"probably the most important Hawaiian rights case ever," with far-reaching implications for Native Americans and other people of color in the U.S., says University of Hawaii law professor Eric Yamamoto. The original suit, brought by a white rancher, seeks to invalidate the Hawaiians-only election of trustees to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). The OHA represents Native Hawaiians in their dealings with the state over "ceded lands," which were taken by the U.S. government’s annexation of the islands in 1898.

Rice–who has received financial and other support from rightwingers such as Robert Bork and Abigail Thernstrom–argues that the election violates equal protection standards because Native Hawaiian is a "racial category," not a sovereign one. Although Rice has lost his argument twice in lower courts, the fate of Hawaiian sovereignty is now in the hands of the High Court. If the Court decides that Hawaiians are a "racial" group and the Hawaiian-only election is viewed as another example of "racial preferences," rather than a sovereignty struggle to reclaim land and restore self-governance, Yamamoto believes OHA and other Native Hawaiian government programs will likely fall.

Chief Justice: Whistlin’ Dixie
Chief Justice William Rehnquist struck a sour chord with the nation’s largest group of African American lawyers this summer when he led a conference of federal judges and lawyers from southern states in a rousing chorus of "Dixie." The National Bar Association (NBA), an organization of black lawyers, blasted Rehnquist and urged "that he refrain from such offensive conduct in the future."

Rehnquist, who led the "Dixie" sing-along at the 4th Circuit Judicial Conference in Hot Springs, VA, had no comment. Others who attended the sing-along rose to his defense, claiming "Dixie" is "Americana" appropriate for the mostly southern gathering. John Crump, executive director of the NBA, points out that Rehnquist’s action heaps insult onto injury: the 4th Circuit is the only federal jurisdiction without an African American judge on its court of appeals. "If they follow the words of `Dixie,’ it’ll be like this forever," he said.

Black Farmers Flood Government with Claims for Justice
Nearly 15,000 black farmers have staked their claim for a share of a $400 million Federal class-action settlement over past racial discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The flood of claims surprised lawyers for the farmers, who expected 1,000 to 2,000 at most to apply. "What this says is that we really are addressing some of the past wrongs," said Phil Fraas, one of the lawyers.

But many farmers, including Timothy Pigford whose complaint led to Pigford v. Glickman, feel that the settlement is inadequate. Although the settlement awards most claimants tax-free cash payments of $50,000 and waives outstanding debts to the USDA, which average $75,000-100,000, "there is no meaningful relief that talks about systemic change in the department," says Stephon Bowens, lawyer for some of the dissenting farmers.

For decades, black farmers have complained that they were effectively shut out of loan programs, disaster assistance, and other USDA aid, as well as subject to racial slurs and unequal treatment by Agriculture Department workers. Many of the farmers in the suit say these racist policies have contributed to the current crisis in black farming, which has blacks abandoning farming at three times the rate of whites. Today, fewer than 20,000 blacks farm in the U.S. today, down from nearly 1 million in 1920.

World Bank’s Price on a Life: $1 a dayThe World Bank has put a price on the lives of the majority of the world’s population–and it’s cheap. According to Professor Michel Chossudovsky of the University of Ottawa, the World Bank’s oft-quoted figures on global poverty for those living in the developing world are based on an arbitrarily set "poverty threshold" at one dollar a day per person. (Officially, "poor" families in the U.S. make do on $11 a day per person.) All others, whether they scrape by on $2 or $3 per day, are "non-poor," even if they can’t afford basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, health care, and education. By this method, only 2.9 percent of China’s population are predicted to be "poor" by 2000.

Equally absurd is the United Nations Development Program’s 1997 Human Development Report, which portrays only 4.1 percent of the population of Trinidad and Tobago as poor. Meanwhile, in the U.S. and Canada-where poverty rates at least assume an adequate diet-poverty is a soaring 13.7 an 17.8 percent, respectively.