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I Respectfully Dissent

A Biography of Edward H. Nakamura

Tom Coffman

Publication Year: 2012

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

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

My husband Galen and I were taking a break from picking opihi along 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...

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pp. 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...

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Chapter 1: Between Annexation and Pearl Harbor

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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...

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Chapter 2: The Transformative War

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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...

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Chapter 3: What Is Life’s Purpose?

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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...

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Chapter 4: A Lawyer for Workers

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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...

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Chapter 5: With Justice for All

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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...

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Chapter 6: Public Servant, Inner Being

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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...

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Chapter 7: The Court’s Scholar

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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...

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Chapter 8: The Supreme Court and Bishop Estate

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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...

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Chapter 9: The Public’s Conscience

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pp. 121-139

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...

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The Jurisprudence of Justice Edward H. Nakamura

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pp. 141-152

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...

Edward H. Nakamura Endowed Memorial Fund

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pp. 153


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pp. 155


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pp. 157-167


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pp. 169-173

About the Author, Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780824865740
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824835729

Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Labor lawyers -- Hawaii -- Biography.
  • Judges -- Hawaii -- Biography.
  • Nakamura, Edward H., 1922-1997.
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