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I Respectfully Dissent

I Respectfully Dissent: A Biography of Edward H. Nakamura

Tom Coffman
Copyright Date: 2012
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  • Book Info
    I Respectfully Dissent
    Book Description:

    Tom Coffman’s portrait of Edward Nakamura is both insightful biography and engrossing political history. The arc of the story may sound familiar (the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the GI Bill, Statehood), but it is strewn with surprise, resulting from Nakamura’s unshakable creed and unique angle of vision.

    Translating the political gains of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Nakamura played a central role—unpublicized—in devising arguably the most progressive program of legislation in an American state: universal health care, temporary disability insurance, collective bargaining rights for public workers, and more—all of which forever changed the Hawai‘i worker’s landscape.

    Vaulted from relative anonymity onto the Hawai‘i Supreme Court, Nakamura was acclaimed for his powerful intellect, his writing, and, most of all, his iron will and integrity. In retirement, he became a dissenting moral force. He fought mismanagement in the State Retirement System, helped to block a highly controversial Supreme Court appointment, and agitated for separating the high court from the Bishop Estate.

    Against his background of comforting the afflicted, in retirement Nakamura afflicted the new “in” crowd, the smug and self-serving—fighting corruption, mismanagement, and the corrosive effect of Bishop Estate appointments on the Hawai‘i courts.

    28 illus.

    A Latitude 20 Book

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6574-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    Nadine K. Nakamura

    My husband Galen and I were taking a break from pickingopihialong the rocky shoreline of Moloa‘a on Kaua‘i when we received a call from Galen’s uncle, Edward Nakamura, one September afternoon in 1997. He was at The Queen’s Hospital after experiencing chest pains and would be undergoing heart surgery. “I’ve lived a full life, with no regrets,” he said. “Every day (since my first heart attack) has been a bonus.” We flew to Honolulu expecting to see him following his operation, but we helped plan his funeral service instead.

    For those of us who were related to him...

    (pp. 1-1)

    Coming of age when the Territory of Hawaii was essentially a colonial society, Edward Nakamura devised a deeply held idea of how democracy should work. As a young attorney, he threw himself into the labor movement. He made himself vulnerable at a time when conflicts raged and the outcomes were in doubt. At the height of what became known in American history as the Red Scare, people crossed the street to avoid saying hello to him.

    He was personally gentle but intellectually tough. While fellow lawyers became widely known, he kept a low profile, from which he achieved broad social...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Between Annexation and Pearl Harbor
    (pp. 2-11)

    Edward H. Nakamura was born in Honolulu in 1922, the younger of the two sons of Ijuro and Shige Nakamura. The date of his birth was about equidistant between America’s annexation of the Hawaiian Islands and Hawaii’s unique involvement in World War II. Although the Hawaii of this long territorial period is often cosmetically portrayed as idyllic and unchanging, it was seething beneath the surface, in part because of its colonial structure, in part because of its hierarchical plantation system, and not least because Hawaii as a U.S. territory promised democracy but did not deliver it.

    All of this occurred...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Transformative War
    (pp. 12-22)

    The reaction to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor—the surprise and shock, fear and anger—has become a staple of second-generation Japanese American history. When the ROTC members were ordered to duty and armed with ancient rifles and five bullets each, Ed Nakamura was among them. The Japanese American ROTC students became the largest element of the Hawaiian Territorial Guard, with about three-fourths of the unit being nisei. They were assigned to stand guard at various sites around the island of Oahu. Nakamura guarded a food warehouse, a power station, and a bridge.

    By all accounts, ethnicity went unremarked within...

  7. CHAPTER THREE What Is Life’s Purpose?
    (pp. 23-34)

    In the uproarious homecoming of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, it was obvious that the insidious question of Japanese American loyalty had been put to rest, even though many battles lay ahead. A large cadre of Japanese Americans had been subjected to a more or less shared experience by virtue of their segregation into ethnically defined units. To be sure, not all their experiences were the same. The combat activity of the 100th Battalion went on much longer than that of the 442nd. The infantry units of the 442nd faced much greater danger than the 522nd Artillery. Combat assignments yielded...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR A Lawyer for Workers
    (pp. 35-57)

    There is a fresco mural in the ILWU Hall in Honolulu painted by a man named Pablo O’Higgins, a product of the radical movement of Mexican muralists that included such giants as Rivera, Siquieros, and Orozco. O’Higgins was recruited to Honolulu to depict the union in epic terms. His painting spirals upward for three stories along a circular staircase, illustrating the essential points of ILWU history. On the ground floor a longshoreman wraps a rope around a stanchion on the West Coast of North America. Opposite this figure another longshoreman ties the rope to a dock in Hawaii. On the...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE With Justice for All
    (pp. 58-71)

    In its colonial condition, the Territory of Hawaii was more readily manipulated by the white elite and the Big Five corporations. The political culture was mostly top-down. With statehood, political power in Hawaii shifted to new hands. Statehood invigorated the electoral process at a time when the power of the unions and the ILWU in particular was at its peak.

    The question was, how was this power to be used? What was the union movement to do with its new connections in high places? Was political power an absolute thing or did it function in a dynamic relationship to the...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Public Servant, Inner Being
    (pp. 72-88)

    As Nakamura went about his work, he nurtured an inner life that was sustaining to him and attractive to others. He appreciated music, art, and travel, and he became a man of surprises. Where labor law might have been perceived as one-track, Nakamura became a renaissance figure who connected himself to the world in innumerable ways.

    When the jazz critic Nat Hentoff produced a long radio series on the history of jazz in 1958, Nakamura set time aside for every word and note. In Hentoff’s description, jazz was a place of forbidden rendezvous between white and black in a still-segregated...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The Court’s Scholar
    (pp. 89-115)

    One day when the union lobbyist Shoji Okazaki was driving Nakamura around Honolulu, Nakamura asked whether he should apply for a judgeship. Okazaki thought to himself, “This guy is no good to us dead. I’d rather see him a judge, and that way I can talk to him whenever I want.’” Okazaki replied, “Ed, you’ve had one heart attack already. In your line of work, if you have another heart attack, you’re going to die.” Nakamura apparently heard variations on this theme from several persons who saw the judiciary as less stressful than labor law.

    From the standpoint of history,...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT The Supreme Court and Bishop Estate
    (pp. 116-120)

    After the Democratic Party had taken over the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of state government (in that order), it took over Bishop Estate. The Democratic Party had won control of the legislature in 1954 and the governor’s office in 1962. Within a decade, all the justices of the Supreme Court were Democrats. They had been appointed by a Democratic governor and confirmed by a Democratic Senate. With control of the Supreme Court came the power to name the trustees of Bishop Estate and, one by one, the Republican trustees were replaced by Democrats.

    Traditionally trusteeships of Bishop Estate were...

  13. CHAPTER NINE The Public’s Conscience
    (pp. 121-140)

    His hair was now snow-white. His eyebrows seemed to grow ever bushier. He greeted people with a smile and spoke softly, almost confidentially, in a low rumbling voice. He was sought after by his contemporaries. Nisei regarded him as one who had fought the good fight and also as one who had immersed himself in politics but stayed clean.¹ To a network of younger attorneys interested in public-service law, he was practically a cult figure. A University of Hawaii law professor, Randall Roth, who was emerging as an influential critic of the political status quo in Hawaii, said it was...

    (pp. 141-152)
    Ben Lowenthal

    I never met Justice Nakamura. By the time I was born, he already was serving as a justice on the Hawai‘i Supreme Court. He passed away when I was in high school on Maui. I did not learn about him until I went to law school at the University of Kansas. A legal education in a particularly conservative state such as Kansas made me realize that Hawai‘i is one of the most liberal jurisdictions in the country. I discovered that—unlike many places—my home state has been a pioneer in long-term land use planning and conservation; that it has...

    (pp. 153-154)
    (pp. 155-156)
  17. NOTES
    (pp. 157-168)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 169-173)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 174-175)