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Suit Over Hawaiians' Aid Can Proceed, Judge Says

September 04, 2002|From Associated Press

A lawsuit challenging special benefits for native Hawaiians can move forward against the state, but without the U.S. government as a defendant, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway reaffirms her earlier ruling that the 16 multiethnic plaintiffs challenging the Hawaiian Home Lands program and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs have standing as state taxpayers because both programs receive state money.

Within the last year, two other challenges to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs were thrown out after the court determined the plaintiffs lacked standing.

Tuesday's ruling removes the United States as a defendant because the plaintiffs, based on their standing as state taxpayers, would be unable to seek relief from the federal government.

"It helps bring focus to the case," said Jon Van Dyke, an attorney with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and a professor at the University of Hawaii's William S. Richardson School of Law. "The plaintiffs wanted to bring forward a much more broad, sweeping case, but the court said they haven't been injured in a manner that would permit a broader claim."

Plaintiffs sued the state on March 4, charging that the Hawaiian Home Lands program and Office of Hawaiian Affairs represent unconstitutional race discrimination.

The lawsuit is based on the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Rice vs. Cayetano decision, which struck down the Hawaiians-only requirement to vote in an Office of Hawaiian Affairs election as racial discrimination.

The new lawsuit seeks an order shutting down the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the homestead programs that serve more than 200,000 native Hawaiians and part-Hawaiians.

Mollway said any ruling in the plaintiffs' favor would only affect state tax dollars that go toward Hawaiian programs.

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