Dec 18/97: Clinton sued by Hawaiian sovereigntist


Honolulu Star-Bulletin
December 18, 1997
Rob Perez

David Keanu Sai wants to give the U.S. Supreme Court justices a history lesson about the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

He may get that chance, though experts say his odds are slim.

Sai has sued President Clinton in the nation's highest court, asking the justices to compel Clinton to honor the 1850 treaty between the Hawaiian Kingdom and the United States.

The legal action is part of an effort by Sai and others involved with Perfect Title Co., the controversial property-search firm, to restore the kingdom government to its pre-overthrow status. Such an effort has been dismissed as absurd by many in Hawaii's legal, political and business circles.

Yet the country's top court last week put the lawsuit on its docket, meaning the justices at a minimum will consider whether to hear the case.

If the court decides to rule on the merits of Sai's arguments, it could mark a turning point in the debate on Hawaiian sovereignty matters, attraction national and even international attention.

Justices would handle trial

But constitutional law specialists doubt the justices will take on the case, saying technical or judicial issues likely will derail it.

"There are plenty of ways which (the justices) can deny a hearing," said Gordon Christenson, a visiting University of Hawaii law professor who has taught courses about the Supreme Court. "I would be skeptical over whether the court would decide" to hear the case.

Sai, acting without attorney representation, succeeded in getting the lawsuit on the Supreme Court's docket apparently by citing a little-used provision in the U.S. Constitution.

He claimed he was filing the lawsuit in his capacity as a regent of the kingdom -- a designation authorized by several dozen native Hawaiians who have pledged allegiance to the kingdom, Sai said.

Sai said he didn't file the lawsuit in his capacity as co-founder and employee of Perfect Title, which searches property records based on 19th century kingdom law and invariably determines existing land titles in Hawaii are invalid.

Because the lawsuit against Clinton involves a foreign ambassador, the Supreme Court has "original jurisdiction," Sai said. In other words, it acts as a trial court in this case, not the nations highest appeals court, its more typical role.

Persistence may pay off

The court, however, initially rejected Sai's lawsuit and returned his $300 filing fee.

In a Dec. 1 letter to Sai, court representative Francis J. Lorson said Sai's petition couldn't be filed because the case didn't go through the appeals process.

Lorson also said the court didn't have jurisdiction under the "original jurisdiction" rule because Hawaii is part of the United States.

But Sai wrote back, reiterating that he was a foreign ambassador and therefore the court had jurisdiction.

Last Friday, an assistant for Clerk William K. Suter wrote that Sai's lawsuit had been assigned to the docket. No explanation for the change was given.

A court spokesman said a response to Sai's lawsuit is due from Clinton by Jan. 10. Once Clinton's response and Sai's rebuttal to it are received, the justices will set a conference to decide whether to hear the case, the spokesman said.

Sai said the court must hear all "original jurisdiction" cases, not having the discretion to choose like it has with appellate cases.

But Christenson said the justices could decide for technical reasons -- such as Sai didn't have proper standing to file the lawsuit or Clinton was immune from these types of actions -- not to hear the case.

Experts say hearing unlikely

And even if the lawsuit survived such preliminary questions, the justices still wouldn't be likely to rule on its merit, law experts said.

The court typically defers matters involving foreign policy or treaties to the executive branch, said Jon Van Dyke, another constitutional law expert at UH.

In the lawsuit, Sai essentially argues that the 1893 overthrow was illegal and that the treaty between the two nations never was terminated and still is in effect. Many of his facts are taken from the so-called Apology Bill, signed by Clinton, that represented a formal apology for the overthrow.

A Clinton spokesman said he couldn't comment on the lawsuit.

Sai confident in case

If Sai's position was upheld, that would mean radical changes in Hawaii, which no longer would be a U.S. state, but a sovereign nation. Kingdom law, not U.S. law, would apply here.

While most legal experts give Sai's argument no chance of succeeding, the former military officer believes his position is irrefutable.

"This isn't a racial thing. It's not a native thing. It's the law -- black and white," Sai said.

"We're not saying Americans get out. We're not saying Americans will lose everything. We're saying recognize that this is the Hawaiian Kingdom."

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Hawai`i - Independent & Sovereign
"The cause of Hawaii and independence is larger and dearer than the life of any man connected with it. Love of country is deep-seated in the breast of every Hawaiian, whatever his station."
- Queen Lili`uokalani

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