A lawsuit that challenges who pays what in property taxes in Hawaii is now in the United States Supreme Court.
At issue is Hawaiian law that says native Hawaiians living in Hawaiian Home Lands or state lands set aside for native Hawaiians with at least 50 percent native Hawaiian blood pay a lower property tax rate than other Hawaii residents.
The Supreme Court began hearing the case of Corboy vs. Louie in mid-September.
The Hawaii Reporter breaks down the issue here.
Dr. John Corboy of Molokai, leading a group of Hawaii residents who pay property taxes but are not native Hawaiians, lost their challenge against the state in the Hawaii Supreme Court but appealed to the highest Supreme Court.
The plaintiffs say all Hawaiians are able to use county services such as police and fire as well as streets, parks and other things that are paid for through property taxes, and it’s not fair that one group of people receives benefits based solely on their racial ancestry.
The Corboy group are basing the lawsuit on the 2000 Supreme Court decision in Rice vs. Cayetano in which the Court said that “native Hawaiian” is a racial classification, making it unconstitutional under the 15th Amendment as a voting eligibility requirement. However, Hawaii continues to use the classification to determine eligibility for a “homestead lease” program that allows those qualified for large property tax exemptions for the first seven years they are granted the break. Furthermore, each county extends the exemption indefinitely.
Non-natives challenged the unequal treatment in the state court system under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. But the Hawaii Supreme Court found that the plaintiffs lacked standing under state law because they were “(a) really only challenging their ineligibility to be homestead lessees, and (b) failed to seek homestead leases.”
So what do you think? Does this seem discriminatory to you? Homestead exemptions are pretty common but I’ve never heard of one based on natives vs. non-natives. Most simply apply to whatever home your primary residence is. Do you think this case has a strong basis?