Ninth Circuit Issues Ruling in Hawaiian Homelands/Office of Hawaiian Affairs Case

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling Aug. 31, 2005, in the ”’Arakaki vs. Lingle”’ case, which challenged the legality of the Hawaiian Homes land distribution program and the allocation of taxpayer funds to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Plantiffs claim these programs violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment

While the court found the Hawaiian Homelands land allocation system to native Hawaiians cannot be challenged, the Ninth Circuit justices say the allocation of taxpayer funds to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs can.


Read the full decision here: “Arakaki v Apoliona file”

In one section, the decision reads: “We affirm the district court in finding that Plaintiffs have demonstrated standing as state taxpayers to challenge those state programs that are funded by state tax revenue and for 11860 ARAKAKI v. LINGLE, which the United States is not an indispensable party. Plaintiffs therefore have standing to bring a suit claiming that the OHA programs that are funded by state tax revenue violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. However, we reverse the district courts dismissal of that claim on political question grounds and hold that a challenge to the appropriation of tax revenue to the OHA does not raise a nonjusticiable political question. We therefore affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.”

The plaintiffs, which include several Hawaii residents, including some who are native Hawaiian, wanted to change the Hawaiian Home Lands system, which now leases land to native Hawaiians who qualify based on blood quantum. They hoped to turn the system into a fee simple system where Hawaiians would own their land and not have to return it to the state when they die.

The state is opposed to giving away the Hawaiian Homelands to native Hawaiians and instead wants to keep control of the land through its established bureaucracy.

The Hawaiian community is split on the issue because the leasing program that currently exists is slow moving with some native Hawaiians never receiving their property within their lifetime. Other native Hawaiians currently on Hawaiian Homelands worry their non-Hawaiian spouses will have to leave their Hawaiian Homes lot if the native Hawaiian spouse dies first.

Currently an estimated 8,000 Hawaiian homes are occupied by native Hawaiians who qualify.

Another 20,000 native Hawaiians who qualify are awaiting the opportunity to occupy one of these homes.

Critics say the state has not moved quickly enough to build additional Hawaiian homes and offer the estimated 200,000 acres dedicated to native Hawaiians-only.

The plaintiffs also plan to pursue their challenge against the funding of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. OHA is allocated millions of taxpayer dollars to fund a separate government bureaucracy for native Hawaiians, for media campaigns that promote native Hawaiian sovereignty and independence, and lobbyists who are pushing for the passage of the Akaka Bill, now pending approval of the U.S. Senate.