New York Times (Opinion)
By Lawrence Downes
April 21, 2017
Say “Aloha!” to Hawaii, the 50th state in the United States. Hawaii is a chain of dozens of islands, in the Pacific Ocean. Many of them small and uninhabited, but there are eight main islands. They are Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau and Kahoolawe.
Hawaii is famous for warm sunshine, beautiful mountains and beaches, and friendly people. Hawaii’s largest city is its capital, Honolulu, which has a population of about 350,000, within a county of about 993,000. By comparison, Birmingham, the largest city in Alabama, has 212,000 people. If you ask, “Where would you like to go on your honeymoon, Honolulu or Birmingham?” many people will not understand why that is a question.
Hawaii has many military bases that keep the United States safe and strong in the world. One base, Pearl Harbor, was bombed by Japan in 1941. Hawaii was not a state then, but the United States fought to defend Hawaii anyway, because it was part of America. Many people from Hawaii served bravely in World War II, and many died. One of Hawaii’s best-known war heroes, Daniel Inouye, lost his arm in combat in Italy. He served many years in the United States Senate.
Hawaii is well-known for its long tradition of welcoming and love, called the “Aloha spirit.” Alabama used to be famous for a spirit called “Jim Crow,” a system of laws to keep people with darker skin separate from white people.
What does “Jim Crow” have to do with Hawaii? A lot!
Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959, after a long struggle. Many people in Hawaii wanted to join the union, and many people in the mainland United States supported them. But statehood failed for many years in Congress because lawmakers from the South bitterly opposed it.
They thought that Hawaii was too far away, and that it had too many people of Asian and Polynesian descent and not enough Caucasians. Mostly they thought that Hawaii’s new representatives in Congress would support civil rights and vote to end “Jim Crow.”
Civil rights include the right to vote, to go to decent schools, and not be hanged by mobs. The Southern lawmakers who opposed civil rights were Democrats then, though they later changed parties to become Republicans. They were also known as Dixiecrats. Today we call them racists.
Congress, the president and the courts eventually all agreed that “Jim Crow” violated the Constitution, the basic rules of our government, including the one that all people are equal and must be treated that way.
But even though “Jim Crow” was defeated, the battle for civil rights continues, because not everybody in America understands or fully accepts the Constitution. People are still struggling to be able to vote, and to go to decent schools, but also to have clean water to drink and not to be killed by police officers.
Another of the Constitution’s most basic rules is that the government consists of equal parts — the executive, legislative and judicial branches. None is supposed to have power over the other, so that a tyrant cannot take control, and make the laws himself. The Constitution applies in every state, even Hawaii, and if there is disagreement over what the Constitution says, judges get to decide.
This is a very simple idea. But one famous Republican, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, said recently that he was “amazed” that a judge in Hawaii, which he called “an island in the Pacific,” could issue a decision that stopped President Trump from doing what he wanted. Mr. Trump issued an order to ban Muslim people from entering the country, but the judge blocked it, because it may have violated the Constitution. That is how the Constitution works. Mr. Sessions is the attorney general, the top law-enforcement officer in the United States, so why was he amazed at that?
You will have to ask him. But he is not the first Southerner to have this problem.
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