Lingle: “The State fully owns the land it was given at Statehood”

Ikaika M Hussey

The following is the verbatim text of a statement given by Gov. Linda Lingle and Attorney General Mark Bennet in response to an article in the Honolulu Advertiser, in order to clarify that her position and the State's position on ceded lands has not changed:

"The State fully owns the land it was given at Statehood, and there are no other claims to the land that a court of law can adjudicate."

The comments made by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) in Saturday's newspaper, that the State's legal position regarding ceded lands has changed, is untrue. Since the beginning of the lawsuit, the State's position has remained unchanged.

The State fully owns the land it was given at Statehood, and there are no other claims to the land that a court of law can adjudicate.

OHA and the other plaintiffs have always based their case on a claim that the State lacks good title to the ceded lands, and the State has always taken the position it holds such good title and that there are no claims to the land recognizable in court other than the State's. The State's position has not changed in the more than a decade this case has wound its way through the court system.

For example, in March 1996, the State wrote in a pleading in this case: "[The Apology Resolution] does not, it must be appreciated, expressly or by implication purport to reverse Annexation or repeal any part of the Admission Act which created the State and vested legal title to ceded lands in it."

More than 10 years ago, in March 1998, the State wrote in a pleading: "Plaintiffs base their attack on the State's title to ceded land and its ability to alienate that land on a federal law, known as the Apology Bill, which confers no substantive rights and cannot be read as an implied repeal of the provisions of the Admission Act that confer title on the State and authorize use of the land to develop among other things home ownership."

In 2001, the State wrote: "There is no legal basis for Plaintiff's request. To grant injunctive relief, the Court would have to defy all existing laws on the issue—including the Admission Act by which Hawai'i received Ceded Lands, the Hawai'i State Constitution and Hawai'i Supreme Court opinions—each of which specifically allows the State to sell or convey public lands, including Ceded Lands."

Indeed, based on precedent, and the State's arguments, the Circuit Court in 2002, ruled in the State's favor, notingthat "When Hawai'i became a state pursuant to the Admission Act, however, complete title and control [of the ceded lands] passed to the State … ."

We have never argued, and do not now argue, that there are not strong moral claims that can be asserted. But we have argued since the inception of this lawsuit that the only forum that can consider such claims is one that encompasses legislative actions.