|Born||January 18 1914|
|Died||May 18 1996|
|Birth Location||Pepeekeo, Hawai'i|
Kazuhisa Abe (1914-96) was a Hawai'i state senator and Supreme Court justice.
Early Life and Career
Kazuhisa Abe, Hawai'i judge and political leader, was born in Pepeekeo, Hawai'i, to Manshiro and Matsuyo Abe. Both parents immigrated from Japan's Ehime province in 1898 and settled in Pepeekeo, where they worked for decades for the Pepeekeo Sugar Company. Kazuhisa was one of three brothers. After attending Hilo High School, he moved to Honolulu and entered the University of Hawai'i. While he initially enrolled as a pre-med student, he soon realized that he lacked the funds for a medical education and ultimately switched to pre-law, an experience that would inspire his lifelong dedication to free public education.
Abe graduated from UH in 1936, then moved to Michigan to attend law school at the University of Michigan, working as a chauffeur and restaurant worker to support himself. During his junior year he was named to the law review. After receiving his law degree in 1939, he settled in Hilo, where he joined the law firm of Irwin and Harlocker. Abe meanwhile married Haruko Murakami, who worked as a dressmaker. In succeeding years the couple had two sons, Arnold Tsuyoshi and Clyde Takashi. In 1940, Abe was named a magistrate of the district courts of North and South Kohala. He continued to occupy this position during World War II, living first in Kohala and then in Waimea, and did not serve in the army. He does not seem to have discussed publicly his experience during the war years, either his military status or his dealings as magistrate with the wartime martial law regime .
In 1945, with support from the International Longshoreman's and Warehouseman's Union (ILWU), Abe was elected Hawai'i County supervisor on the Democratic ticket. Part of his platform was to create a junior college branch of the University of Hawai'i at Hilo, and was thereafter active in founding UH Hilo. Six years later, he ran for the Territorial Senate, and was elected in a landslide. It was a tough campaign. Republicans accused Abe of depending on racial block voting among nonwhites. Abe in return charged that the Republicans sought only to "serve the interests of big business."
Abe remained a senator for fourteen years, first in the Territorial Senate and then the Hawai'i State Senate, and never lost an election. In 1955 he was named chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. In 1959 he became chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and kept that position when elected to Hawai'i's first state legislature. In 1964 he won election as president of the senate, unseating fellow Hilo Democrat Nelson Doi in a power struggle envenomed by personal conflict. Throughout his time in the senate, Abe maintained a number of outside business interests. He maintained a law office in Hilo, through which he represented construction firms. In 1963 he headed a syndicate seeking to build a new savings and loan establishment on Hilo. He also was president of several companies, including Hawaii Funeral Home, Hawaii Trucking Company, and Hawaii Farm Management, and was associated with a number of land development firms. The potential conflict of interest between his legislative role and business interests drew outside criticism. Abe defended himself by noting the financial sacrifice involved in being a representative.
During his career in the senate, Abe became known as a champion of less-favored groups. As chair of the Ways and Means Committee, and was responsible for drafting Bill 2, which reshaped Hawai'i's tax code by abolishing wage taxes to relieve low-income families. He was a defender of East Hawai'i interests. During his term in office he opposed reapportionment of legislative districts, as that would reduce the representation of his more sparsely-populated region. (As a member of the legislature, Abe was the first named respondent in Dyer v. Abe , a notable federal court case on reapportionment.) In 1960, during a dispute over road budgets, which gave more money to construction in West Hawai'i, he stated frankly to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, "We can't all be good statesmen," noting that he would be defeated for reelection if he supported the program.
As a Buddhist coming from a heavily Japanese American district, Abe also was a notable promoter of racial and religious minorities. In 1960, after statehood was achieved, Abe sponsored a bill to remove restrictions on the teaching of foreign languages in Hawai'i schools. (Abe noted that he had previously declined to support such a bill on the grounds that it might harm Hawai'i's drive for statehood). In 1963, he sparked widespread controversy when he introduced a bill to eliminate Christmas and Good Friday as state holidays, and also to have Wesak Day (Buddha's Birthday) made an official holiday. Derided in the press and public opinion as an attempt to kill Santa Claus, the bill never even made it through committee. Abe, sidelined from the legislature by abdominal surgery, insisted that religious holidays violated the U.S. Constitution, but did not explain why he then supported a Wesak Day holiday. Although Abe stated that he was risking his political career to defend religious freedom, the failed effort did not visibly affect his advancement. In any case, his own commitment to multiracialism was mixed. Although he achieved a certain renown when he joined famed surfer and sheriff Duke Kahanamoku and former state Senator Herbert K.H. Lee as "Aloha Ambassadors" on a trip to the Far East in 1960 to extol the new state of Hawai'i's multiracial democracy, he later publicly admitted, "I'm very anti-haole. I figured I don't really have any haole friends. I always hands-off kind. You know, because I figure he wants my friendship when he can get something from me. Being an ex-politician, I know."
In 1966, Abe refused the position of lieutenant governor, to which he had the right of succession as senate president when the post fell vacant, and announced his intention to retire from electoral politics following that year's elections. His actions were widely understood as part of a deal with Governor John Burns whereby he would be appointed to the Hawai'i Supreme Court, and indeed in early 1967 Abe was appointed by Burns to a seven-year term on the Court. His nomination was hotly contested by supporters of Senator Nelson Doi, whom he had unseated as senate president, and by AFL-CIO unions, who were traditional rivals of Abe's ILWU power base and who complained of his legal representation of large construction firms. Abe's nomination also drew the (unspecified) opposition of the Hawai'i Bar Association. Nevertheless, he was approved by the senate in a 17-8 vote.
Supreme Court Justice and Later Career
While on the bench Abe established himself generally as a liberal and defender of constitutional rights. In 1968 he threw out as unconstitutionally vague state laws that forbade individuals to be present at cockfights, gambling houses, or houses of prostitution. In 1971 he ruled that a defendant could not be asked in court about prior criminal convictions when he took the stand to testify on his own behalf. In 1973, he joined the majority of the Court in ordering Castle Memorial Hospital to grant Dr. Maurice Silver, a neurosurgeon of Jewish ancestry, staff privileges. In an opinion, Abe expressed doubts about the form of "credentials committee" that hospitals had formed to govern admission of outside doctors, warning that they might be used to exclude doctors for fear of competition, personal dislike, or racial/religious discrimination.
Abe distinguished himself on the court by two controversial opinions. In McBryde v. Robinson (1973), which involved a dispute between two sugar companies in Hanapepe over ownership of the excess water from rivers that ran through land they owned, Abe ruled for the court that neither company owned them; all waters were publicly "owned" by the State of Hawai'i. In a 1972 case involving the Kamehameha schools, Abe wrote a concurring opinion expressing the view that the schools acted unconstitutionally in excluding all non-ethnic Hawaiian students and requiring teachers to be Protestants, and should not be given a tax exemption unless they changed their policy. Reversing a position taken in a case five years earlier, Abe contended that the schools should hire non-Protestant teachers on an equal basis. Although his concurrence did not have force of law, he was violently denounced for his position by Rev. Abraham Akaka and other Hawaiian activists.
Abe left the court on December 28, 1973, at the close of his term. (For administrative reasons he had "retired" on paper as of 1970.) His term was not renewed by Governor Burns (whom Abe had shortly before sued unsuccessfully to receive a pay raise granted to other government employees). After leaving the court, Abe entered private practice with his son Arnold. In 1979 he was named chair of Hawai'i's Judicial Discipline Commission. In 1985, Abe was decorated by the emperor of Japan for his efforts to promote understanding between the United States and Japan. Shortly after, however, he was indicted on charges of conspiracy and theft in connection with allegedly fraudulent sales of securities by General Commodities, a firm specializing in commodity futures for whom he was a legal representative. Due to the scandal, he stepped down as head of the Judicial Discipline Commission. However, following a trial in July 1986, he was acquitted on all counts. Abe died in 1996 aged 82.
Last updated Nov. 28, 2023, 5:59 p.m..