This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to legislation establishing a process by which the federal government would recognize a sovereign Native Hawaiian government. Native Hawaiians are descendants of indigenous Polynesian people who first settled the Hawaiian Islands. They are currently classified as a racial group in the eyes of the federal government rather than an entity entitled to sovereignty within the United States, such as Indian tribes (Native Americans).
The amendment stated that no provision in the bill would exempt “a Native Hawaiian governing authority from complying with the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution."
Native Hawaiians are currently classified as a racial group in the eyes of the federal government rather than an entity entitled to sovereignty within the United States.
Flake contended his amendment merely required the bill to comply with the constitution: "This amendment, I would hope, would not be controversial….But it would simply ensure that the equal protection clause, the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, applies to the Native Hawaiian governing authority established by this legislation….I think that this amendment simply clarifies, I would hope, that this does not violate any portion of the Constitution. Now, it has been said here many times by the proponents of the legislation that it does not, but there are still a lot of questions out there….The 14th Amendment states, 'All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.'….So what we are saying here is, why not adopt language that says that it simply complies, or no language in this legislation shall be contrary to the 14th Amendment? "
Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) argued the amendment was gratuitous: "…Mr. Flake wants to require any native governing entity to comply with the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. If I had to summarize it in a sentence, that's the way I would put it. In the course of his remarks, he asked, Why not make sure? I think that's a perfectly reasonable request, but my contention would be, in asking that the amendment not be voted favorably upon, that precisely what he seeks to succeed in with his amendment is exactly what is in the bill, itself, which is in the amendment as a substitute. Mr. Flake's amendment then is duplicative of current Federal law."
The House rejected the amendment by a vote of 177-233. 159 Republicans and 18 Democrats voted "yea." 225 Democrats and 8 Republicans voted "nay." As a result, the House voted down an amendment stating that the bill would not exempta Native Hawaiian governing authorityfrom complying with the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution.