On that day in March of 1959, thousands took to the streets of Honolulu, playing Dixieland music and waving banners, with children stopping to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Congress had just sent a bill to the White House to give Hawaii the statehood it had “so long deserved,” local reporters wrote. Five months later, on Aug. 21, the collection of islands in the Pacific Ocean officially became the 50th state of the United States.
During the years of statehood that followed, thousands of Hawaii citizens served in the military, died and were wounded in wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, won countless decorations and spearheaded civil rights advancements. Others served with distinction in Congress, particularly the late Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye, who had lost an arm fighting in World War II with the famed Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, ultimately winning the Medal of Honor.
One Hawaii-born American rose to become the president of the United States.
But on Thursday, some felt as though the 50th state was being disrespected, relegated to five words: “an island in the Pacific.”
In an interview with “The Mark Levin Show” that was later uncovered by CNN, Attorney General Jeff Sessions implied that a judge from Hawaii — which he called simply “an island in the Pacific” — should not be able to strike down Trump’s travel ban.
“I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power,” Sessions said.
Later, Justice Department spokesman Ian D. Prior clarified Sessions’s remarks in a statement: “Hawaii is, in fact, an island in the Pacific — a beautiful one where the Attorney General’s granddaughter was born,” he said. “The point, however, is that there is a problem when a flawed opinion by a single judge can block the President’s lawful exercise of authority to keep the entire country safe.”
The comments were not only demeaning, it was noted, but also geographically incorrect. The state of Hawaii is not, in fact, an island in the Pacific — it is a stunningly beautiful collection of islands, an archipelago of eight major islands and many islets and atolls. Its wondrous beaches and mountains attract millions of visitors from the U.S. mainland, who don’t need passports to visit, and bring in massive amounts of revenue to the United States from foreign countries, especially Japan.
One of its islands is indeed called Hawaii, but the federal judge that Sessions criticized is based in Honolulu on the island of Oahu.
The fact that Sessions didn’t even say the state’s name in his initial remarks was most offensive for some, said Nadine Y. Ando, president of the Hawaii State Bar Association.
“Excuse me?” Ando said in an interview with The Washington Post. “We have been a state for 58 years. We’re not just some island.”
The comments were also dismissive of Judge Derrick Watson, an appointed and confirmed federal judge, Ando said, “not some outlier judge sitting in the middle of nowhere.” While she understood Session’s desire to express his opinions regarding the judge’s decision, Ando said, “It’s unfortunate that in the process of doing that, he demeaned the entire state.”
The disparaging statement or as the Honolulu Star-Advertiser called it, “Sessions’ diss of Hawaii,” spurred lawmakers, politicians and others who call Hawaii home to defend the 50th state, latching onto the hashtag #IslandinthePacific.
Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin gave a subtle yet scathing response, tweeting a photo of the statute that established Hawaii’s statehood.
He also released a statement, saying: “Our Constitution created a separation of powers in the United States for a reason. Our federal courts, established under article III of the Constitution, are co-equal partners with Congress and the President. It is disappointing AG Sessions does not acknowledge that.”
Both senators from Hawaii also sounded off on Sessions’s comments.
— Senator Mazie Hirono (@maziehirono) April 21, 2017
Mr. Attorney General: You voted for that judge. And that island is called Oahu. It's my home. Have some respect. https://t.co/sW9z3vqBqG
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) April 20, 2017
And in the process of defending Hawaii, some on social media decided to give a bit of a history lesson on the 50th state.
“Does Pearl Harbor sound familiar to Jeff Sessions?” one Twitter user wrote.
Hawaii was the site of the day that would “live in infamy” in American history, Dec. 7, 1941, when a surprise attack by Japanese aircraft destroyed and damaged 19 American ships and obliterated nearly 200 planes, resulting in the deaths of 2,403 American men, women and children.
During World War II, Hawaii was also home to members of the most decorated unit in U.S. military history. The 442nd was composed entirely of Japanese Americans, mostly from Hawaii. Hawaii is frequently ranked among the top 10 states with the largest population of active military personnel. It has also been ranked among the states with the largest shares of veterans who served during wartime — roughly 4 in 5 veterans.
Last year, personal finance website WalletHub ranked it as the sixth most patriotic state, using metrics such as military engagement, voting habits and civil-education requirements.
Jeff Sessions calls it "some island in the Pacific"
We call it the 50th state and site of the only WWII battlefield on US soil. pic.twitter.com/vhz8Ij0kB6
— Oliver Willis (@owillis) April 20, 2017
— HawaiiScienceMuseum (@HawaiiScience) April 20, 2017
— The Loyal Dissenters (@loyaldissenters) April 21, 2017
President Barack Obama, who was born in Honolulu, made multiple symbolically powerful gestures for his home state while in office.
Under Obama, the Interior Department in September finalized a rule to allow for the reestablishment of a formal government-to-government relationship with the Native Hawaiian community.
A month earlier, Obama created the largest ecologically protected area on the planet when he expanded a national marine monument in Hawaii to encompass more than half a million square miles.
He than quadrupled the size of the Papahanaumokuakea (pronounced “Papa-ha-now-moh-koo-ah-kay-ah”) Marine National Monument to 582,578 square miles of land and sea in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Hawaii residents are proud of their multiethnic state and many have been in the forefront of civil rights legislation.
A Democratic member of Congress from Hawaii, the late Rep. Patsy Mink, played a leading role in passing Title IX of the federal education act, which, among other things revolutionized opportunities for women in athletics. Before Roe v. Wade, Hawaii in March 1970 became the first state to legalize abortion at the request of the woman.
Hawaii also became the first state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, just a half-hour after the Senate passed it on March 22, 1972.
— ACLU of Hawaii (@acluhawaii) April 20, 2017
Some on social media went even further to criticize Sessions — they pointed out that Sessions’s home state, Alabama, once attempted to secede from the Union. Hawaii, in its nearly 58 years of statehood, has not.
I'll note for Jeff Sessions' benefit that the #IslandInThePacific, unlike his home state of Alabama, never tried to LEAVE the United States.
— Chad (@RevDJEsq) April 20, 2017
I'm perplexed that someone from a state that tried to leave the US to keep its slaves has the gall to call Hawaii an #IslandinthePacific
— schrobble (@schrobblehead) April 21, 2017
I'm amazed a President from an island in the Hudson River with a statue welcoming immigrants continues to push anti-immigration policies https://t.co/H7YkOQxyF5
— Senator Tim Kaine (@timkaine) April 21, 2017
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