Supreme Court to hear ‘ceded lands’ case, 29 states sign on

News Report
Travis Quezon

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a petition later this year from Gov. Linda Lingle's administration to overturn a January decision by the Hawai'i Supreme Court blocking the sale, exchange, or transfer of Crown and Government lands, known as "ceded" lands.

The state court's decision cited a 1993 resolution passed by Congress that apologized for the federal government's role in the overthrow of the Native Hawaiian government.

Hawai'i Attorney General Mark Bennett argues that the apology bill should not be used to restrict the ability for the state to manage or sell about 1.2 million acres of former Crown and Government lands.

Twenty-nine states and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands filed "friend of the court" briefs in support of the state of Hawai'i's position. The supporting states also say that they should have the ability to do as they please with their lands, without federal limitations.

Lingle's administration filed its motion with the U.S. Supreme Court on April 29. At the same time, Bennett and Bill Mehe'ula, an attorney representing the State Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), were lobbying the state Legislature to adopt legislation that would settle past due payments owed to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs from revenue on the use of Crown and Government lands.

Mehe'ula said today that he had not known beforehand that Bennett was planning to file the petition.

Mehe'ula also said that Mr. Bennett's petition does not undercut their negotiated settlement. "These are different issues," he said. "The ceded lands settlement has to do with the revenue under Chapter 10 of Hawai'i Revised Statues that the state owes to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. This really has to do with actual ownership of ceded lands, and whether the Native Hawaiian claim is valid.

"Until those claims are resolved, the state shouldn't be selling the land, because it's not clear they have title," he said.

Mehe'ula anticipates oral arguments in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to take place early next year. He also said that OHA will try again to pass a ceded lands settlement bill "under slightly different terms."