TRIBUTE -- Why Freddy Rice Went to Court
The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii has lost a dear friend and supporter who helped keep the Aloha Spirit alive by standing on principle.
Hawaii Island rancher Freddy Rice passed away on Jan. 5, 2018. I first learned about his contribution to local and legal history when I studied the U.S. Supreme Court case that bears his name. Rice v. Cayetano was the landmark decision that ensured that all Hawaii citizens may vote for the trustees of the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
What many people don’t know is why Freddy Rice went to court and how much of himself he gave as the plaintiff in the case.
If you’re not already familiar with the facts of the case, Hawaii is unique in that its constitution sets aside a portion of revenues from the public lands trust (that is, the lands that formerly belonged to the Kingdom of Hawaii) for the betterment of Native Hawaiians. This provision was a requirement for statehood, but its interpretation has been controversial. The provision is considered by many to be an important element of justice for Native Hawaiians, while others prefer that no single group receives preferential entitlements. In 1978, the Hawaii Constitutional Convention established the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), in part, to administer funds from the public lands trust In a way that betters the conditions of Native Hawaiians.
Enter Freddy Rice. His role in the lawsuit brought on personal attacks, but thanks to his perseverance, he prevailed, protecting the rights of all citizens to participate in public elections of government officials.
But there was a more personal reason Freddy went to court and endured the attacks and inconvenience of the lawsuit.
As he frequently explained to me during visits to his ranch, Freddy didn’t oppose OHA or its role in helping Native Hawaiians. He supported OHA’s goal to help the Hawaiian people through housing, jobs, education, health care and other means. These were all things Freddy wanted for Native Hawaiians, especially those he knew struggling to make a living.
Freddy simply wanted to use his right to vote to help make sure good OHA trustees — who would better the conditions of Native Hawaiians — were elected!
Regardless of how you feel about OHA, the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund or the Hawaii Constitution, it’s clear that those moneys should be handled with integrity and not squandered. As a local rancher and businessman, Freddy simply wanted to help ensure that the funds would be in good hands.
Those of us who were lucky enough to know Freddy on a personal level will never forget his courage or his character.
When I heard that Freddy had passed, I reached out to those in the Grassroot family who knew and admired him — and who stood with him during his historic court battles — and asked them to share with us their own memories of Freddy.
Here are a few of their responses:
From Dick Rowland ...
Freddy Rice. Born and bred in Hawaii over many generations, believing all who live and love Hawaii are Hawaiians without discrimination against or for anyone.
A community activist in his own unassuming way, who nevertheless engaged the world and united the community toward that purpose.
A great rancher-roper. Many don’t know it, but Freddy was well-known on the mainland as a great competing roper.
A man who carried his vision to the Supreme Court of the United States, where he prevailed.
In summary, Freddy Rice was an imposing member of our community whose legacy is permanent. Thank you, Freddy. You and your family are cherished. You will be missed.
From Jim Growney …
The state of Hawaii is fortunate that Freddy Rice believed that racial qualifications that barred him from voting in a Hawaiian election were unacceptable for two reasons.
One, he considered himself a Hawaiian because members of his family were among the early settlers. They were citizens of the monarchy and Hawaiians. He felt he had inherited the right to be a Hawaiian.
And two, he was firmly convinced that the United States Constitution prohibits racial restrictions for voting, because they had been used in the past to exclude certain races from participating in elections. The Supreme Court upheld this belief.
Hawaii is fortunate that Fred had the courage to defend his convictions.
From Scott Wallace …
Freddy Rice was more than a tall, good-looking, third-generation Big Island haole cowboy wearing a black hat who knew how to rope and ride his way around Hawaii ranching. He believed that all peoples were and are created equal, and the highest court in the land — the U.S. Supreme Court, in the historic Rice v. Cayetano decision — made it clear and unambiguous that ancestry was a proxy for race and there was no place for racial preferences in deciding who gets to vote, where somewhere sits on a bus, or how someone is admitted to college. And it was no easy accomplishment; every lower court opined that Freddy was wrong — and then the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in 7-2 decision in a Clinton court, that no one was above the law. Freddy Rice’s passion and conviction for what is right, what is pono, has had the biggest impact on Hawaii's melting pot since statehood.
As for me, Freddy was a good friend and kupuna of mine. I admired him greatly for both his courage and his kindness. But it was on my trips to visit him at his ranch that I saw the best measure of the man. Sometimes we would spend time together in town. That’s where I learned that Freddy was a man greatly beloved by his neighbors, especially Native Hawaiians who considered him a true kama‘aina.
That is Freddy Rice’s real legacy. He did Hawaii proud.
E hana kakou (Let’s work together!),
Keli'i Akina, Ph.D.
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
(Trustee-at-Large, Office of Hawaiian Affairs - This e-mail is not official OHA business.)
SA Jan 17, 2018: Why Freddy Rice headed to court