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Hawai'i v. Office of Hawaiian Affairs

United States Supreme Court
556 U.S. 163 (2009)


In 1959, Hawaii (defendant) was admitted into the United States. Under the Admission Act, 73 Stat. 4, the United States gave Hawaii all public lands the United States had title over to be held by Hawaii in a public trust for Native Hawaiians. In 1993, Congress passed a resolution (the Apology Resolution), acknowledging the United States’ historical involvement in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii and apologizing for the United States’ actions. Section 3 of the Apology Resolution also stated that the resolution was not intended to serve as settlement of any claims against the United States. In this case, as part of the public trust, Hawaii held a parcel of land known as the Leiali’i parcel, which it sought to sell to Hawaii’s Housing Finance Development Corporation (HFDC) for affordable housing. The HFDC was required to pay the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) (plaintiff), which managed the funds and proceeds received from the public trust. However, the OHA also required the HFDC to acknowledge that, pursuant to the Apology Resolution, native Hawaiians might have claims to the land held in the public trust, and all land sold from the public trust was sold with reservation of those possible claims. The HFDC refused. OHA sued Hawaii to prevent Hawaii from selling any lands held in the public trust, until a determination of whether native Hawaiians had any claims to the land was made. The Hawaii state court found against OHA, but the Supreme Court of Hawaii determined that the Apology Resolution required Hawaii to consider whether any outstanding native claims existed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Alito, J.)

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