Final Briefs In Hawaii SCOTUS Case: Is The Hawaiian Homes Property Tax Exemption Racial Discrimination?

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Robert Thomas
Robert Thomas

At its December 9, 2011 conference, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether to review Corboy v. Louie, No. 11-336 (cert. petition filed Sep. 15, 2011). That’s the case seeking review of the Hawaii Supreme Court’s opinion which concluded that challengers to the property tax exemptions conferred on lessees of Hawaiian Homesteads lacked standing to bring suit.

Some background. Only “native Hawaiians” are eligible to lease homestead land, and thus only those possessing the appropriate blood quantum are entitled to the property tax exemptions. The Hawaii court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, holding the petitioners lacked standing to challenge the exemption since they had not sought homestead leases (leases for which they were ineligible because they are not native Hawaiians).

The challengers filed a cert petition (posted here), asking the Court to review this Question Presented:

In Rice v. Cayetano, 528 U.S. 495 (2000), this Court held that a state classification of voters according to whether they are “any descendant of not less than one-half part of the blood of the races inhabiting the Hawaiian Islands previous to 1778” was an impermissible racial classification under the Fifteenth Amendment. Respondents have employed the same classification to determine whether a taxpayer is eligible for certain long-term leases that entitle lessees to significant tax exemptions. No equivalent exemption is available to petitioners because they do not fall within that racial classification.

Petitioners paid their taxes under protest and then sought refunds from their respective counties on the ground that their tax bills resulted from a racial classification inconsistent with the Constitution. The Hawaii courts declined to apply Rice or subject the classification to strict scrutiny. The question presented here is:

Whether the Hawaii courts erred in failing to recognize that petitioners have standing to seek a refund of their own taxes and that the Equal Protection Clause precludes a State or municipality from creating tax exemptions that are available only to members of a certain race.

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 U.S. Solicitor General was served a copy, but the SG has not weighed in.

Here are all of the briefs filed in the case:

We’ll keep following this case. Look for the results of the Court’s conference on December 12, 2011.

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