Brief Fact Summary. 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.”
Synopsis of Rule of Law. 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.
The relevant inquiry is not whether there is a bare, though unlikely, possibility that state courts might render adjudication of the federal question unnecessary.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Is the Act constitutional?
Held. 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.
Discussion. Note the broad authority of the legislative body. So long as the purpose of any act, which includes eminent domain is legitimate and the means to achieve the purpose are not irrational, the act will withstand constitutional scru