One Constitutional Provision: Three Political Questions, One non-Political

Background. A group of people brought a lawsuit against the State's Director of Finance, the State, the Hawaiian Homes Commission, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, and other related officials. The lawsuit alleged a constitutional violation of the duty to sufficiently fund the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. The complaint prayed for injunctive relief by ordering sufficient funds. The State filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the complaint raised a political question and the issue could not be resolved by the courts. The circuit court granted the motion and the ICA affirmed. The HSC granted certiorari.

The Political Question Doctrine. Hawai'i adopted the political question doctrine from Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186 (1962):

Prominent on the surface of any case held to involve a political question is found (1) a textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department; or (2) a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it; or (3) the impossibility of deciding without an initial policy determination of a kind clearly for nonjudicial discretion; or (4) the impossibility of a court's undertaking independent resolution without expressing lack of respect due coordinate branches of government; or (5) an unusual need for unquestioning adherence to a political decision already made; or (6) the potentiality of embarrassment from multifarious pronouncements by various departments on one question.

Trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs v. Yamasaki, 69 Haw. 154, 170, 737 P.2d 446, 455 (1987).

The Constitutional Question Raised by the Plaintiffs. The Hawai'i Constitution mandates a duty for the legislature to fund Hawaiian Home Lands:

The legislature shall make sufficient sums available for the following purposes: (1) development of home, agriculture, farm and ranch lots; (2) home, agriculture, aquaculture, farm and ranch loans; (3) rehabilitation projects to include, but not limited to, educational, economic, political, social and cultural processes by which the general welfare and conditions of native Hawaiians are thereby improved; (4) the administration and operating budget of the department of Hawaiian home lands; in furtherance of (1), (2), (3), and (4) herein, by appropriating the same in the manner provided by law.

Art. XII, Sec. 1. The question is whether that duty could be enforced through injunctive relief.

How to Interpret the Constitution. The HSC examined the words "sufficient" and "sum" in Art. XIII, Sec. 1. "The general rule is that, if the words used in a constitutional provision . . . are clear and unambiguous, they are to be construed as they are written[.]" Spears v. Honda, 51 Haw. 1, 6, 449 P.2d 130, 134 (1968). Words in the constitutional are "presumed to be used in their natural sense." Employees' Retirement Sys. v. Ho, 44 Haw. 154, 159, 352 P.2d 861, 864 (1960). The term "sufficient" means "marked by quantity, scope, power, or quantity to meet with the demands, wants, or needs of a situation or of a proposed use or end," and the word "sum" is simply an amount of money. Webster's Third New International Dictionary, 2284, 2289 (1967). This, according to the HSC, did not really resolve the issue so it delved deeply into the history underlying the constitutional provision.

When the plain language does not shed any light on the issue, the court can examine "the history of the times and the state of being when the constitutional provision was adopted." State v. Kahlbaun, 64 Haw. 197, 202, 638 P.2d 309, 315 (1981). When reviewing the historical backdrop, "the object sought to be accomplished and the evils sought to be remedied should be kept in mind by the courts." Hawai'i Gov't Employees' Ass'n v. County of Maui, 59 Haw. 65, 81, 576 P.2d 1029, 1039 (1978).

No Legislative Discretion, but Perhaps some Judicial . . . The HSC examined the debates of the Constitutional Convention of 1978. The committee reports and floor debates showed that the Constitutional Convention did not want legislative discretion in this particular area. The delegates noted that the legislature should not be given the option to leave these areas unfunded. However, the delegates could not agree exactly how much funding the Department of Hawaiian Homelands should get; hence, the term "sufficient sum."

Half a Question . . . In the end, the HSC held that the language and history of Art. XIII, Sec. 1 created measurable and justiciable standards to determine "sufficient sums" only for administrative and operating expenses of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. The other three purposes--the first three in the provision--are too vague and unclear for any real judicial involvement. And so, the HSC remanded the case to determine that narrow question and affirmed the dismissal in all other respects.

A Very Heavy Reliance on History. The HSC examined this issue by looking at the language of the constitutional provision, determined that that in itself did not address the issue, and plunged ahead on the constitutional history. This analysis, in itself, is nothing new. Interpreting rules, statutes, and constitutional language is usually done this way. But in the end, the HSC held that there was only enough judicial review to examine whether there was "sufficient sums" for purposes of funding the DHHL and no other purpose. How can it be that only one of the three purposes from the same constitutional provision is not a political question, but the rest of them are nonjusticiable? The HSC relied on reports and a proposed general plan by delegates and legislators from the late '70s. That's what makes this interpretation so odd. The answer is the heavy reliance on legislative history. What was at work here appears to be the legislative reports, the plan, and just about everything other than the language of the constitution itself.


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