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Law School Case Brief

Rice v. Cayetano - 528 U.S. 495, 120 S. Ct. 1044 (2000)


It does not follow from Mancari that Congress may authorize a state to establish a voting scheme that limits the electorate for its public officials to a class of tribal Indians, to the exclusion of all non-Indian citizens.


In 1921, Congress enacted the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (HHCA) with the purpose of rehabilitating the native Hawaiian population, which was defined to include "any descendant of not less than one-half part of the blood of the races inhabiting the Hawaiian Islands previous to 1778." Upon Hawaii's admission as a state in 1959, a federal statute granting Hawaii title to public lands provided that those lands--and the proceeds and income that the lands generated--were to be held as a public trust for various purposes, including the betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians. In 1978, Hawaii established the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), a state agency that was to be (1) independent from other branches of state government; and (2) responsible for programs and activities relating to (a) "native Hawaiians," the statutory definition of which term incorporated the definition given by the HHCA, and (b) "Hawaiians," defined by state statute as descendants of the aboriginal peoples inhabiting the Hawaiian Islands in 1778. Among the OHA's responsibilities was the administration of a share of the revenue from some of the lands granted to Hawaii upon admission. The OHA was overseen by a board of trustees who were required by state statute to be elected by "Hawaiians." A citizen of Hawaii who was not a "Hawaiian" as statutorily defined applied to vote in an election for OHA trustees, but the state denied his application. The citizen, alleging that his exclusion from the election violated the Federal Constitution's Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii against Hawaii's governor. The District Court granted summary judgment to the state on the grounds that (1) Congress and Hawaii had recognized a guardian-ward relationship with the native Hawaiians, (2) this relationship was analogous to the relationship between the United States and the Indian tribes, (3) the electoral scheme was rationally related to the state's responsibilities toward the native Hawaiians, and (4) the voting restriction did not violate the Constitution's ban on racial classifications. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed.


Does the Hawaii statute permitting only “Hawaiians" who are descendants of aboriginal peoples inhabiting Hawaiian Islands in 1778, to vote for trustees of state agency violate Federal Constitution's Fifteenth Amendment?




The Supreme Court reversed a decision that held the voting restriction contained in Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 13D-1 and 13D-3(b)(1) (1993) did not violate U.S. Const. amend. XV ban on racial classifications. Petitioner was a citizen of Hawaii and a descendant of pre-annexation residents of the islands. He was neither "native Hawaiian" nor "Hawaiian" as defined by the statute. Petitioner applied to vote in the elections for Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) trustees. To register to vote for the office of trustee he was required to attest that he was Hawaiian and desired to vote. Petitioner marked through the words "am also Hawaiian and," then checked the form "yes." His application was denied. The Supreme Court held that the voting structure under the statute specifically granted the vote exclusively to persons of defined ancestry. The state, in enacting the statute, used ancestry as a racial definition and for a racial purpose. The ancestral inquiry was forbidden by the Fifteenth Amendment. Thus, the electoral restriction enacted a race-based voting qualification, which denied or abridged the right to vote on account of race in violation of the Fifteenth Amendment.

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