Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff Case Brief

Why is the case important?

This case involved a constitutional challenge to a Hawaii law under which property held in fee simple by just a few people was condemned and sold to lessees of the property in order to re-distribute the fee simples on the island. The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that “private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation.”

Facts of the case

After extensive hearings in the mid-1960s, the Hawaii legislature discovered that while Federal and State governments owned nearly 49 percent of the land in Hawaii, another 47 percent was owned by only 72 private landowners. To combat this concentration of ownership, the legislature enacted the Land Reform Act of 1967. The Act adopted a method of redistribution in which title in real property could be taken from lessors and transferred to lessees. Frank E. Midkiff, a landholder, challenged the Act.

Question

Is the Act constitutional?

Answer

Yes. The court of appeals decision is reversed.
The Court began by defining the permissible scope of the use of eminent domain power by legislative bodies to redevelop slum areas as defined in the case of Berman v. Parker, 348 U.S. 26 (1954), in which the Court upheld the use of the power based on the legislature’s determination of the best means to accomplish the goal of the public interest. Once the object is within the authority of Congress, the right to realize it through the exercise of eminent domain is clear. For the power of eminent domain is merely the means to an end. Berman v. Parker, supra. The public use requirement is thus coterminous with the scope of a sovereign’s police powers.
The Court noted that its prior decisions require the Court to abstain from substituting its judgment for that of legislative bodies as to what constitutes a public use unless the use is without reasonable foundation.
The Court held that the Act of the Hawaii legislature may not actually achieve the goals it has set out to achieve, but that the wisdom of takings is not relevant for the Court to decide so long as the legislature’s purpose is legitimate and the means for achieving the goals are not irrational.
The mere fact that property taken outright by eminent domain is transferred in the first instance to private beneficiaries does not condemn that taking as having only a private purpose.

Conclusion

“The State of Hawaii has never denied that the Constitution forbids even a compensated taking of property when executed for no reason other than to confer a private benefit on a particular private party. A purely private taking could not withstand the scrutiny of the public use requirement

  • it would serve no legitimate purpose of government and would thus be void. But no purely private taking is involved in these cases. The Hawaii Legislature enacted its Land Reform Act not to benefit a particular class of identifiable individuals but to attack certain perceived evils of concentrated property ownership in Hawaii — a legitimate public purpose. Use of the condemnation power to achieve this purpose is not irrational. Since we assume for purposes of these appeals that the weighty demand of just compensation has been met, the requirements of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments have been satisfied.”
    • Case Brief: 1984
    • Appellant: Hawaii Housing Authority
    • Appellee: Midkiff
    • Decided by: Burger Court

    Citation: 467 US 229 (1984)
    Argued: Mar 26, 1984
    Decided: May 30, 1984