More states join GRIH amicus brief in public lands case

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii has filed an amicus brief before the Supreme Court of the United States in support of Hawaii vs. Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) and the state’s right to manage the public or ceded lands of Hawaii. At the heart of the case is the constitutional principle that all citizens should be treated equally under the law, as well as the state’s authority to manage public lands for the good of all of its citizens rather than one special racial class.

“We’re delighted that over 28 other state attorneys general across the country as well as the Solicitor General of the United States, and numerous national public interest law firms and policy institutes, have filed Amicus Briefs in support of the State of Hawaii’s stance seeking reversal of the Hawaii Supreme Court’s ceded lands decision.” said H. William Burgess lead attorney in the Amicus brief filed by Grassroot Institute of Hawaii and the Southeastern Legal Foundation of Atlanta, Georgia. “From the time it was first written in 1840, the Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii provided that all men are of one blood to dwell on the Earth in unity; and the Kingdom’s civil laws gave all persons born or naturalized in Hawaii, whatever their ancestry, the same rights as natives. During the years of the Kingdom, and ever since then, all of Hawaii’s public lands, including the 1.2 million acres known as the ceded lands, have been held in trust for all the people of Hawaii,” he explained. “Thus, the Hawaii Supreme Court’s decision violates the ideals of aloha and equal opportunity for every individual embraced by the founding fathers of both the Kingdom of Hawaii (Kamehameha I, II and III) and the United States of America.”

The SCOTUS case was filed after the Hawaii Supreme Court recently ruled the state could not sell any public lands due to the Apology Resolution passed by the U.S. Congress in 1993. The Resolution mistakenly asserts that the America government participated in the revolution of 1893, which saw the Hawaiian monarchy replaced with a democracy. According to the recent court ruling, reparations may be due. Over the past 15 years the state of Hawaii has negotiated with OHA on the sale of 1.2 million acres of land (29 percent of the state’s total area). When the state announced a deal had been reached on the sale, a suit was filed to block it. However, the state and GRIH believe the Newlands Resolution of 1898 (the law annexing the Republic of Hawaii to the U.S.), as well as the statehood vote and Admission Act of 1959 and subsequent federal legislation address and effectively dismiss any claims Native Hawaiians may have had.

According to Burgess, it’s somewhat unusual to have this many states join in support of a particular case. No doubt they recognize the case threatens to set a terrible legal precedent, affecting more than just Hawaii. To date 32 states have filed joint amicus briefs including: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming. In addition other organizations have also joined in support including the Cato Institute, the Pacific Legal Foundation, and the Center for Equal Opportunity. The case is scheduled to be argued at the Supreme Court on Feb. 25, 2009.

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