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The constitution was originally framed during a constitutional convention authorized under Act 334 of the 1949 Session Laws of Hawaii. This constitution was adopted in a statewide vote of the people, the Hawaii Constitution Ratification Vote, held on November 7, 1950.
An Act of the U.S. Congress dated March 18, 1959 (73 Stat 4, Public Law 86-3) to accept Hawaii as a state suggested that the constitution as adopted in 1950 be amended in three ways. Accordingly, three ballot propositions were submitted to Hawaii's voters on June 27, 1959. These three amendments to the 1950 constitution were approved and the new state constitution, as amended, was accepted by the U.S. Congress in the Act of March 18, 1959. The new Hawaii Constitution went into effect on August 21, 1959 when the president issued a proclamation admitting Hawaii into the Union.
Revision of 1978
A constitutional convention was held in Hawaii in 1978. The delegates to that convention recommended a number of amendments to the state's voters and on November 7, 1978 those amendments were voted on in a statewide election.
According to a computer report kept by the Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii, all the proposed amendments were approved. However, in the case of Kahalekai v. Doi, the Hawaii Supreme Court in 1979 declared that many of the amendments had not in fact been validly ratified.
These invalid amendments were then removed from the constitution, and explanatory notes were provided in the official text of the constitution explaining the situation.
This deletion was done under the authority of Resolution No. 29 of the 1978 Constitutional Convention which authorized the constitutional revisor to "to effect such necessary rearrangement, renumbering and technical changes of the sections within the articles of the State Constitution, as may be affected, for proper form and arrangement and proper order in the State Constitution in the event that any or some of the amendments to the State Constitution proposed by the Constitutional Convention of Hawaii of 1978 are not ratified by the electorate."
Prior to Hawaii becoming a U.S. state, the island had numerous constitutions promulgated for the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, Republic of Hawaiʻi, Territory of Hawaiʻi and State of Hawaiʻi. The first constitution was drafted by Kamehameha III. A few constitutions have become historically infamous like the Bayonet Constitution of 1887 which stripped native Hawaiians of their rights in favor of American plantation owners and the constitution of 1893 that was never officially promulgated but instead inflamed businessmen to accelerate their plans for the overthrow of the monarchy. Other documents became famous for more positive reasons such as the Constitution of 1978 that created the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and declared the Hawaiian language to be one of the official languages of the state.
Interpreting the Constitution
The premier authority of enforcement and interpretation of the Constitution of Hawaiʻi has been historically given to the various supreme courts that had reigned over the Hawaiian Islands. Currently, that duty rests in the hands of the Hawaii Supreme Court.
- See also: Preambles to state constitutions
The preamble to the constitution says:
We, the people of Hawaii, grateful for Divine Guidance, and mindful of our Hawaiian heritage and uniqueness as an island State, dedicate our efforts to fulfill the philosophy decreed by the Hawaii State motto, "Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono."
We reserve the right to control our destiny, to nurture the integrity of our people and culture, and to preserve the quality of life that we desire.
We reaffirm our belief in a government of the people, by the people and for the people, and with an understanding and compassionate heart toward all the peoples of the earth, do hereby ordain and establish this constitution for the State of Hawaii.
Amending the Constitution
- Main article: Amending state constitutions
According to Article XVII of the Hawaii Constitution, there are two methods by which the state's constitution can be revised or amended: the constitutional convention or the legislatively-referred constitutional amendment.
- Through a two-thirds vote in both the Hawaii State Senate and the Hawaii House of Representatives, held in one legislative session.
- Through a simple majority vote in both chambers, held in two successive sessions of the legislature.
- Any such proposed amendments must then be placed on a statewide ballot, where they can be approved under these conditions:
- If approved by a majority of all the votes tallied upon the question if this majority constitutes at least 50% of the total vote cast at the election, or,
- If approved at a special election by a majority of all the votes tallied upon the question, if this majority consists of at least 30% of the total number of registered voters in the state at that time.
A constitutional convention can be held under these conditions:
- If the Hawaii State Legislature puts the question, "Shall there be a convention to propose a revision of or amendments to the Constitution?" on the ballot.
- If the legislature does not act to place such a question on the ballot, the question shall go on the ballot as an automatic ballot referral every ten years.