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RICE V. CAYETANO (98-818) 528 U.S. 495 (2000)
146 F.3d 1075, reversed.
[ Kennedy ]
[ Breyer ]
[ Stevens ]
[ Ginsburg ]
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Breyer, J., concurring in result


No. 98—818



[February 23, 2000]

    Justice Breyer, with whom Justice Souter joins, concurring in the result.

    I agree with much of what the Court says and with its result, but I do not agree with the critical rationale that underlies that result. Hawaii seeks to justify its voting scheme by drawing an analogy between its Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) and a trust for the benefit of an Indian Tribe. The majority does not directly deny the analogy. It instead at one point assumes, at least for argument’s sake, that the “revenues and proceeds” at issue are from a “ ‘public trust.’ Ante, at 24. It also assumes without deciding that the State could “treat Hawaiians or native Hawaiians as tribes.” Ante, at 22. Leaving these issues undecided, it holds that the Fifteenth Amendment forbids Hawaii’s voting scheme, because the “OHA is a state agency,” and thus election to the OHA board is not “the internal affair of a quasi-sovereign,” such as an Indian tribe. Ante, at 24.

    I see no need, however, to decide this case on the basis of so vague a concept as “quasi-sovereign,” and I do not subscribe to the Court’s consequently sweeping prohibition. Rather, in my view, we should reject Hawaii’s effort to justify its rules through analogy to a trust for an Indian tribe because the record makes clear that (1) there is no “trust” for native Hawaiians here, and (2) OHA’s electorate, as defined in the statute, does not sufficiently resemble an Indian tribe.

    The majority seems to agree, though it does not decide, that the OHA bears little resemblance to a trust for native Hawaiians. It notes that the Hawaii Constitution uses the word “trust” when referring to the 1.2 million acres of land granted in the Admission Act. Ante, at 10, 12. But the Admission Act itself makes clear that the 1.2 million acres is to benefit all the people of Hawaii. The Act specifies that the land is to be used for the education of, the developments of homes and farms for, the making of public improvements for, and public use by, all of Hawaii’s citizens, as well as for the betterment of those who are “native.” Admission Act §5(f).

    Moreover, OHA funding comes from several different sources. See, e.g., OHA Fiscal 1998 Annual Report 38 (hereinafter Annual Report) ($15 million from the 1.2 million acres of public lands; $11 million from “[d]ividend and interest income”; $3 million from legislative appropriations; $400,000 from federal and other grants). All of OHA’s funding is authorized by ordinary state statutes. See, e.g., Haw. Rev. Stat. §§10—4, 10—6, 10—13.5 (1993); see also Annual Report 11 (“OHA’s fiscal 1998—99 legislative budget was passed as Acts 240 and 115 by the 1997 legislature”). The amounts of funding and funding sources are thus subject to change by ordinary legislation. OHA spends most, but not all, of its money to benefit native Hawaiians in many different ways. See Annual Report (OHA projects support education, housing, health, culture, economic development, and nonprofit organizations). As the majority makes clear, OHA is simply a special purpose department of Hawaii’s state government. Ante, at 24—25.

    As importantly, the statute defines the electorate in a way that is not analogous to membership in an Indian tribe. Native Hawaiians, considered as a group, may be analogous to tribes of other Native Americans. But the statute does not limit the electorate to native Hawaiians. Rather it adds to approximately 80,000 native Hawaiians about 130,000 additional “Hawaiians,” defined as including anyone with one ancestor who lived in Hawaii prior to 1778, thereby including individuals who are less than one five-hundredth original Hawaiian (assuming nine generations between 1778 and the present). See Native Hawaiian Data Book 39 (1998). Approximately 10% to 15% of OHA’s funds are spent specifically to benefit this latter group, see Annual Report 38, which now comprises about 60% of the OHA electorate.

    I have been unable to find any Native American tribal definition that is so broad. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, for example, defines a “Native” as “a person of one-fourth degree or more Alaska Indian” or one “who is regarded as an Alaska Native by the Native village or Native group of which he claims to be a member and whose father or mother is … regarded as Native by any village or group” (a classification perhaps more likely to reflect real group membership than any blood quantum requirement). 43 U.S.C. § 1602(b). Many tribal constitutions define membership in terms of having had an ancestor whose name appeared on a tribal roll–but in the far less distant past. See, e.g., Constitution of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Art. II (membership consists of persons on final rolls approved in 1906 and their lineal descendants); Constitution of the Sac and Fox Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, Art. II (membership consists of persons on official roll of 1937, children since born to two members of the Tribe, and children born to one member and a nonmember if admitted by the council); Revised Constitution of the Jicarilla Apache Tribe, Art. III (membership consists of persons on official roll of 1968 and children of one member of the Tribe who are at least three-eighths Jicarilla Apache Indian blood); Revised Constitution Mescalero Apache Tribe, Art. IV (membership consists of persons on the official roll of 1936 and children born to at least one enrolled member who are at least one-fourth degree Mescalero Apache blood).

    Of course, a Native American tribe has broad authority to define its membership. See Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez, 436 U.S. 49, 72, n. 32 (1978). There must, however, be some limit on what is reasonable, at the least when a State (which is not itself a tribe) creates the definition. And to define that membership in terms of 1 possible ancestor out of 500, thereby creating a vast and unknowable body of potential members–leaving some combination of luck and interest to determine which potential members become actual voters–goes well beyond any reasonable limit. It was not a tribe, but rather the State of Hawaii, that created this definition; and, as I have pointed out, it is not like any actual membership classification created by any actual tribe.

    These circumstances are sufficient, in my view, to destroy the analogy on which Hawaii’s justification must depend. This is not to say that Hawaii’s definitions themselves independently violate the Constitution, cf. post at 9—10 (Justice Stevens, dissenting); it is only to say that the analogies they here offer are too distant to save a race-based voting definition that in their absence would clearly violate the Fifteenth Amendment. For that reason I agree with the majority’s ultimate conclusion.