Final Brief In Case Challenging Hawaiian Homes Property Tax Exemption As Racial Discrimination: SG’s Assertion That HAWSCT Decision Was One Of State Law “Dead Wrong.”

Robert Thomas
Robert Thomas

BY ROBERT THOMAS – Here is the final brief (Petitioner’s response to the SG’s inviation amicus) in Corboy v. Louie, No. 11-336 (cert. petition filed Sep. 15, 2011), the case asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Hawaii Supreme Court’s dismissal of a challenge to the property tax exemptions conferred on lessees of Hawaiian Homesteads. The petitioners claim this is an unconstitutional race-based classification, but the Hawaii Supreme Court dismissed for lack of standing (the petitioners had not applied for a Hawaiian Homestead lease).

The case was originally scheduled for the Court’s conference on December 12, 2011, but the Court postponed consideration of the case and invited the Obama Administration to weigh in with a brief, because the petition draws into question the constitutionality of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act and the constitutionality of a part of the Hawaii Admission Act. The SG’s brief asserted that the Hawaii Supreme Court decided the standing issue as a matter of state law, and thus was grounded in “independent and adquate” state law, meaning that it is immune from Supreme Court review under Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032 (1983). The petitioners’ brief responds:

A. The Solicitor General’s assertion that the decision below rests on an independent and adequate state ground is dead wrong. Although he repeats the Hawaii Supreme Court’s claim that its decision rested on state law (U.S. Br. 9-11), saying it is so does not make it so.

1. As we have explained (Pet. 20-22), this Court routinely reviews decisions in which a purported state-law reason for declaring a case nonjusticiable is intertwined with the merits of the underlying federal question. The Solicitor General does not dispute that fact. Indeed, he never really grapples with the fact that the ostensible state-law basis of the decision below is inextricably bound up in whether the native Hawaiian classification is permissible

The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that petitioners could not challenge the racially discriminatory taxation scheme because they did not also seek to participate in the racially discriminatory leasehold program. But that is just an indirect way of saying that use of a transparent proxy for race (lessee status) is permissible and that the only potentially cognizable constitutional injury is the additional and separate leasehold benefit that is explicitly conditioned on an applicant’s race.

Br. at 1-2 (emphasis original).

Here is the Court’s docket entry. The case is now scheduled for the Court’s June 21, 2012 conference. Stay tuned.

Supplemental Brief for Petitioners, Corboy v. Louie, No. 11-336






  1. If they have tax exemptions, why can't us expats have them too? Anyways, they also accused the proposed tax exemption as motivated by income brackets as defined by economy.

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