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Abstract

The State of Hawaii has a unique land ownership problem directly affecting many of the state's homeowners: a handful of people own a large percentage of the land available for residential housing." Consequently, a significant proportion of homeowners rent, under long-term leases, the land on which their homes are built. In 1967 the Hawaii legislature took action to break up this concentration of ownership by enacting the Land Reform Act. The legislature declared that such ownership was a threat to the health, safety, and welfare of Hawaii's citizens because of its significant contribution to the spiraling inflation of land values. To alleviate the problem, the Act authorized a redistribution of the fees simple from the few landowner/lessors to the many homeowner/lessees, using the power of eminent domain. Since, at first blush, it appeared that the State of Hawaii was merely transferring private property from one private per son to another in defiance of the public use requirement of eminent domain, serious doubts were raised as to the constitutionality of the Act. The United States Supreme Court, however, had "no trouble concluding" that the Act was a constitutional exercise of the eminent domain power. The Court gave complete deference to the Hawaii legislature's determination of public use" by classifying the Act as ordinary socio-economic legislation enacted pursuant to the state's police power. By focusing on the breadth of a state's police power and on the deferential standard of review, the Court successfully avoided an independent examination of public use, a traditional judicial function. This Note will demonstrate that the Supreme Court's deference to the Hawaii legislature's public use determination was an unwarranted departure from case precedent and that the Court should have decided the case on the merits. This Note also will argue that the minimum rationality standard generally used to review socio-economic legislation is inappropriate in state eminent domain cases because only the state's power is considered, while the interests of the condemnees are ignored.