Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff, 467 U.S. 229; 104 S. Ct. 2321; 81 L.Ed. 2d 186 (1984)

Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff, 467 U.S. 229; 104 S. Ct. 2321; 81 L. Ed. 2d 186 (1984)

Facts—In Hawaii 40 percent of the land was owned by state and national governments, and seventy-two private landowners held title to 47 percent of the remaining land. This system dated back to Hawaii’s feudal land tenure system in which land was controlled by chiefs and sub-chiefs and resulted in high land prices. Owners of land did not want to sell in part because of adverse tax consequences. In part to allay such consequences, Hawaii adopted the Land Reform Act of 1967 enabling the state to use its power of eminent domain to buy property where sufficient numbers of tenants indicated their desire to buy. After purchasing the property, the state would then sell it back to the former lessees. The U.S. District Court upheld most provisions of the law, but the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, with one judge dissenting, ruled that the law violated the public use provision of the Fifth Amendment.

Question—Does the Hawaii Land Reform Act of 1967 violate the public use provision of the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment as applied to the states by the Fourteenth?


ReasonsJ. O’Connor (8–0). After deciding that federal courts had not abused their discretion by intervening in this case, O’Connor cited Berman v. Parker, 348 U.S. 26 (1954), upholding the District of Columbia Redevelopment [slum-clearance] Act of 1945, as indicating that “The ‘public use’ requirement is . . . coterminous with the scope of a sovereign’s police powers,” and that the role of courts in overseeing such powers should be minimal. Although Hawaii was selling land it had condemned to private individuals, it was doing so in an attempt to remedy the problems of land oligopoly traceable to Hawaii’s feudal origins. Successful or not, the law clearly fell within the ambit of state police powers. The public use requirement does not require “that condemned property by put into use for the general public,” but only that the state’s purpose be on behalf of the general public.

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