Categorized | Education

New book explores Liliuokalani’s legal challenge


“The Rights of My People” examines the two battles for Hawaii’s sovereignty. Liliuokalani led them. ProtoBookCover

Author Neil Thomas Proto revisits the first battle – the 1893 coup d’état and annexation in 1898 – through a new perspective: the harsh remnants of the Civil War, the missionaries’ disquieting view of race, and the Renaissance and newly defined role of Hawaiian women.

Explored for the first time is the second battle:  the fate of the Crown lands – a quarter of the Hawaiian Islands – taken in the 1893 coup d’état and contested aggressively by Liliuokalani through 1910.

For more than a decade, the queen took up residence in the nation’s capital, often for months at a time, to challenge the complicity of the United States in the media and before Congress. With reluctance, she turned to a court of law; many found this to be disquieting.

Through previously unexamined court records, correspondence, and graphic portrayals, “The Rights of My People” tells the story of Liliuokalani’s political, legal, and media maneuvering. She used her hard-earned wisdom and skill to lend credibility to her claim that the taking of the Crown lands by the United States was immoral and illegal.

The threat of execution and assassination and the continued use of religious and racial condescension and deception by her adversaries, old and new, unfold in Honolulu, Hilo, and onto the continent in San Francisco, Boston, and Washington, D.C.

About the author

Neil Thomas Proto’s public service and private practice in law includes 35 years of experience in land use, environmental and federal litigation, teaching at Yale and Georgetown universities and writing and speaking on a broad range of cultural and legal matters.

He is of counsel in the Washington, D.C., firm of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis. He is the author of “To A High Court,” “The Tumult” and “Choices That Led to United States of America v. SCRAP.”

Since 1972, both as an appellate attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice (Environment and Natural Resources Division, 1972 to 1979) and in private practice, Proto has been involved in numerous legal, cultural and political challenges, including his representation, pro bono, of Protect Historic America (authors and historians such as David McCullough and James McPherson), in its effort to stop Disney from locating in the Virginia Piedmont.

In 1993, Proto drafted a unique statutory scheme at the behest of the State of Hawaii that resulted in the conveyance of Kahoolawe Island from the United States to Hawaii for the special use of Native Hawaiians. He continued to represent Hawaii as counsel in its dealings with the United States through 2003.

He has written two papers on the experience: “Culture Into Law: The Conveyance of Kahoolawe Island” (1995, Honolulu) and “Kahoolawe: The Lawyer’s Duty” (2005, University of Washington Law School, Seattle).

Proto is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute (1990 to the present), where he has taught on environmental values and energy choices and urban policy and sprawl.

As a visiting lecturer at Yale College (1988, 1989), he taught the history and law of commercial nuclear power.

Earlier in his career, he served as general counsel to the President’s Nuclear Safety Oversight Committee, chaired by then Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt.

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