U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear Hawaii ceded lands appeal

Chris Rizo Oct. 2, 2008, 10:47am

U.S. Supreme Court building

Mark Bennett (R)

Rob McKenna (R)

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-The U.S. Supreme Court has accepted an appeal by Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett, who wants the high court to overturn a recent state court decision that prevents Hawaii from selling or transferring 1.2 million acres of ceded lands.

The attorney general filed the Petition for a Writ of Certiorari in late January to reverse a decision by the Hawaii Supreme Court in a case between the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Housing and Community Development Corporation of Hawaii.

In that case, the state justices ruled that the 1993 Congressional Apology Resolution prohibits the state from selling, exchanging or transferring any of the more than 1.2 million acres of ceded land until it reaches a settlement with native Hawaiians.

The congressional resolution acknowledges the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii and apologizes for the U.S. government's role in abolishing Hawaii's monarchy.

Ceded lands account for about 29 percent of Hawaii's total land area and almost all state-owned lands. Currently, the state receives millions annually in rents from tenants of the land.

When Hawaii was annexed by the United States in 1898, lands formerly held by the monarchy were ceded to the United States and later transferred in trust to the state.

The lands' purposes include for the support of public schools and other public education institutions, for the betterment of conditions of native Hawaiians, for the development of farm and home ownership, for public improvements; and for public use of the lands.

In June, attorneys general of 29 other states filed a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna wrote for his and the other states that the Hawaii Supreme Court "misconstrued" the Apology Resolution.

"Notwithstanding express language showing that Congress had simply adopted a symbolic apology, the Hawaii court held that the Apology Resolution singled out and diminished the state's title to lands received at statehood," McKenna wrote.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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