U.S. Supreme Court agrees to review ceded lands case

HONOLULU (KHNL) - The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear the State of Hawaii's appeal in a case regarding the sale and transfer of ceded lands.

The State had asked the High Court to accept the case, State of Hawaii et al. v. Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and overturn the Hawaii Supreme Court's January 2008 decision.

The decision holds that the United States Congress had forbidden the State from selling or exchanging any of the State's 1.2 million acres of ceded lands, until a political agreement was reached with Native Hawaiians.

The State argued that the U.S. Congress had no power to exercise that type of control over the lands of a sovereign state.

Attorney General Mark Bennett says he is pleased with the High Court's decision to hear the case.

"We believe the Hawaii Supreme Court was incorrect in its holding that the Congress, in the Apology Resolution, barred the State of Hawaii from selling or transferring Ceded Lands, as the Congress had expressly granted Hawaii that right in the 1959 Hawaii Admission Act," said Bennett.  "It is our hope that the United States Supreme Court will reverse the decision of the Hawaii Supreme Court."

In a statement, OHA Board Chairperson Haunani Apoliona issued this response:

"We continue to believe that the Hawaii's Supreme Court ruled correctly," said Apoliona.  "We firmly stand behind the state Supreme Court's opinion which says the State should keep the ceded land trust intact until Native Hawaiian claims to these lands are settled."

Both parties will file briefs over the next several months.

The Court will likely hold oral argument on the case in Washington D.C. in January or February 2009.  A decision will likely come by June 2009.