UH’s Lease from State of Hawai‘i for the Summit of Mauna Kea is Invalid

The following is one of the topics covered by Dr. Sai in his letter of July 9, 2019. Maui County Council member Tamara Paltin requested of Dr. Sai his insights into the proposed construction of the Thirty-Meter Telescope. Dr. Sai’s letter is an attachment to Council member Paltin’s letter to University of Hawai‘i President David Lassner on July 12, 2019.

Invalidity of General Lease No. S-4191

Under General Lease No. S-4191 dated June 21, 1968, the Board of Land and Natural Resources of the State of Hawai‘i, as lessor, issued a 65-year lease to the University of Hawai‘i with a commencement date of January 1, 1968 and a termination date of December 31, 2033. The lease is comprised of 11,215.554 acres, more or less, being a portion of Government lands of the ahupua‘a of Ka‘ohe situated at Hamakua, Island of Hawai‘i identified under Tax May Key: 3rd/4.4.15:09.

The State of Hawai‘i claims to have acquired title under Section 5(b) of the 1959 Hawai‘i Admissions Act, Public Law 86-3 (73 Stat. 4), whereby “the United States grants to the State of Hawaii, effective upon its admission into the Union, the United States’ title to all public lands and other public property within the boundaries of the State of Hawaii, title to which is held by the United States immediately prior to its admission into the Union.” The United States derives its title from the 1898 Joint Resolution of Annexation (30 Stat. 750), which states “Whereas the Government of the Republic of Hawaii having, in due form, signified its consent, in the manner provided by its constitution…to cede and transfer to the United States the absolute fee and ownership of all public, Government, or Crown lands.”

The Republic of Hawai‘i proclaimed itself on July 3, 1894, by a convention comprised of appointed members of the Provisional Government and eighteen “elected” delegates. The Provisional Government proclaimed itself on January 17, 1893 and claimed to be the successor of the Hawaiian Kingdom. The Hawaiian Kingdom’s title derives from the 1848 Act Relating to the Lands of His Majesty The King and of the Government, whereby the ahupua‘a of Ka‘ohe is “Made over to the Chiefs and People, by our Sovereign Lord the King, and we do hereby declare those lands to be set apart as the lands of the Hawaiian Government, subject always to the rights of tenants.”

According to President Grover Cleveland, in his message to the Congress after investigating the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom government that took place on January 17, 1893, the Provisional Government “was neither a government de facto nor de jure.”[1] He did not consider it a government. The President also concluded that “the provisional government owes its existence to an armed invasion by the United States.”[2] Being a creature, or creation, of the US, it could not claim to be the lawful successor of the Hawaiian Kingdom government with vested title to the ahupua‘a of Ka‘ohe. As the successor to the Provisional Government, the Republic of Hawai‘i, as it self-declared successor, could not take any better title than the Provisional Government and hence did not have title to Ka‘ohe. The U.S. Congress in the 1993 Apology Resolution noted that the Republic of Hawai‘i was “self-declared.”[3]

The United States claims to have acquired title to Ka‘ohe, by cession, from the Republic of Hawai‘i under the 1898 Joint Resolution of Annexation. International law recognizes that the “only form in which a cession can be effected is an agreement embodied in a treaty between the ceding and the acquiring State.”[4] The Joint Resolution of Annexation is not “an agreement embodied in a treaty.” It is a U.S. municipal law from the Congress merely asserting that cession took place. The situation is not unlike a neighbor holding a family meeting and claiming that they have agreed that your house is now their house.

In a debate on the Senate floor on July 4, 1898, Senator William Allen stated:

The Constitution and the statutes are territorial in their operation; that is, they can not have any binding force or operation beyond the territorial limits of the government in which they are promulgated. In other words, the Constitution and statutes can not reach across the territorial boundaries of the United States into the territorial domain of another government and affect that government or persons or property therein.[5]

The joint resolution is ipso facto null and void.[6]

In 1988, the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (“OLC”) issued a legal opinion on the lawfulness of the annexation of Hawai‘i by a joint resolution.[7] In its opinion, it cited constitutional scholar Westel Willoughby:

The constitutionality of the annexation of Hawaii, by a simple legislative act, was strenuously contested at the time both in Congress and by the press. The right to annex by treaty was denied, but it was denied that this might be done by a simple legislative act … Only by means of treaties, it was asserted, can the relations between States be governed, for a legislative act is necessarily without extraterritorial force—confined in its operation to the territory of the State by whose legislature it is enacted.[8]

The OLC concluded, “It is therefore unclear which constitutional power Congress exercised when it acquired Hawaii by joint resolution. Accordingly, it is doubtful that the acquisition of Hawaii can serve as an appropriate precedent for a congressional assertion of sovereignty over an extended territorial sea.”[9] The United States cannot produce any evidence of a conveyance of the ahupua‘a of Ka‘ohe from a grantor, vested with the title. All it can produce is a joint resolution of Congress. This is not a conveyance from a foreign State ceding territory.

Instead of providing evidence of a conveyance of territory, i.e. treaty of cession, the State of Hawai‘i Supreme Court in its October 30, 2018 majority decision In Re Conservation District Use Application for TMT, SCOT-17-0000777, quoted from a book titled Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawai‘i written by Professor Jon Van Dyke.

The U.S. Supreme Court gave tacit recognition to the legitimacy of the annexations of Texas and Hawaiʻi by joint resolution, when it said in De Lima v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 1, 196 (1901), that “territory thus acquired [by conquest or treaty] is acquired as absolutely as if the annexation were made, as in the case of Texas and Hawaii, by an act of Congress.” See also Texas v. White, 74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 700 (1868), stating that Texas had been properly admitted as a state in the United States.[10]

It is unclear what Professor Van Dyke meant when he stated that the U.S. Supreme Court “gave tacit recognition to the legitimacy of the annexation of Texas and Hawai‘i by joint resolution,” because tacit, by definition, is to be “understood without being openly expressed or stated.”[11] Furthermore, this statement is twice irrelevant: first, the Court as a third party to any cession of foreign territory has no standing to make such a conclusion as to what occurred between the ceding and receiving States; and, second, its opinion is a fabrication or what American jurisprudence calls a legal fiction. Legal fictions treat “as true a factual assertion that plainly was false, generally as a means to avoid changing a legal rule that required a particular factual predicate for its application.”[12]

According to Professor Smith, a “judge deploys a new legal fiction when he relies in crafting a legal rule on a factual premise that is false or inaccurate.”[13] These “new legal fictions often serve a legitimating function, and judges may preserve them—even in the face of evidence that they are false—if their abandonment would have delegitimating consequences.”[14]

The proposition that Texas and Hawai‘i were both annexed by joint resolutions of Congress is clearly false. In the case of Texas, Congress consented to the admission of Texas as a State by joint resolution on March 1, 1845 with the following proviso, “Said State to be formed, subject to the adjustment by this government of all questions of boundary that may arise with other governments.” This condition was referring to Mexico because as Texas was comprised of insurgents who were fighting for their independence, Mexico still retained sovereignty and title to the land. In its follow up joint resolution on December 29, 1845 that admitted Texas as a State of the Union, it did state that the Congress consented “that the territory properly included within, and rightfully belonging to, the Republic of Texas.” These actions taken by the Congress is what sparked the Mexican-American War in 1846.

Congress’ statement of “rightfully belonging” is an opinion and the resolution mentions no boundaries. The transfer of title to the territory, which included the territory comprising Texas, came three years later on February 2, 1848 in a treaty of peace that ended the Mexican-American War.

Under Article V of the treaty, the new boundary line between the United States and Mexico was to be drawn. “The boundary line between the two republics shall commence in the Gulf of Mexico, three leagues from land, opposite the mouth of the Rio Grande, otherwise called Rio Bravo del Norte.”[15] Rio Brava del Norte is the southern tip of Texas. If Texas was indeed annexed in 1845 by a joint resolution with its territory intact, there was no reason for the treaty to specifically include the territory of Texas. If it were true that Texas territory was ceded in 1845, Article V of the treaty would have started the boundary line just west of the Texas city of El Paso, which is its western border, and not from the Gulf of Mexico at its southern border. The truth is that the territory of Texas was not annexed by Congress in 1845 but was ceded by Mexico in 1848. The Rio Grande river is the southern border for the State of Texas.

With regard to the so-called annexation of Hawai‘i in 1898 by Congress, there is no treaty ceding Hawaiian territory as in the case of Texas. Like the Texas resolution, Congress stated,

Whereas the Government of the Republic of Hawaii having, in due form, signified its consent, in the manner provided by its constitution to ceded absolutely and without reserve to the United States of America all rights of sovereignty of whatsoever kind in and over the Hawaiian Islands and their dependencies, and also to cede and transfer to the United States the absolute fee and ownership of all public, Government, or Crown lands, public buildings or edifices, ports, harbors, military equipment, and all other public property of every kind and description belonging to the Government of the Hawaiian Islands, together with every right and appurtenance thereunto appertaining…

The reference to consent by its constitution is specifically referring to Article 32, which states, the “President, with the approval of the Cabinet, is hereby expressly authorized and empowered to make a Treaty of Political or Commercial Union between the Republic of Hawaii and the United States of America, subject to the ratification of the Senate.”[16] There is no treaty between the so-called Republic of Hawai‘i and the United States. Furthermore, a constitutional provision is not an instrument of conveyance as a treaty would be. So without a treaty from the Hawaiian Kingdom government as the ceding State vested with the sovereignty and title to government lands, which includes the ahupua‘a of Ka‘ohe, there was no change in the ownership of the government lands.

Furthermore, Hawaiians of the day knew there was no treaty as evidenced in the Maui News newspaper published October 20, 1900. The Editor wrote,

Thomas Clark, a candidate for Territorial senator from Maui holds that it was an unconstitutional proceeding on the part of the United States to annex the Islands without a treaty, and that as a matter of fact, the Island[s] are not annexed, and cannot be, and that if the democrats come into power they will show the thing up in its true light and demonstrate that that the Islands are de facto independent at the present time.

The legal fiction that Texas and Hawai‘i were annexed by a joint resolution of the Congress is just a patently false when measured “against the results of existing empirical research.”[17] For the State of Hawai‘i Supreme Court to restate, and embrace, this falsifiable legal fiction is simply a trick that allows it to fabricate its own false and falsifiable fiction regarding the State of Hawai‘i. In its TMT decision the Court, in conflict with overwhelming evidence, stated, “[W]e reaffirm that ‘[w]hatever may be said regarding the lawfulness’ of its origins, ‘the State of Hawai‘i…is now a lawful government.’”[18] For the State of Hawai‘i to be a “lawful government” it must be vested with lawful authority absent of which it is not lawful. The State of Hawai‘i Supreme Court, being a branch of the State of Hawai‘i itself, cannot declare it “is now a lawful government” without making reference to some intervening factor that vested the State of Hawai‘i with lawful authority.

When addressing the lawful authority and sovereignty of the United States of America, the United States Supreme Court specifically referred to a particular and significant intervening factor. It stated that as “a result of the separation from Great Britain by the Colonies, acting as a unit, the powers of external sovereignty passed from the Crown not to the Colonies severally, but to the Colonies in their collective and corporate capacity as the United States of America.” The Court was referring to “the Treaty of Paris of September 3, 1783, by which Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States.”[19]

It has been erroneously assumed that the US Congress vested the State of Hawai‘i with lawful authority in the 1959 Statehood Act[20] in an exercise of the constitutional authority of Congress to admit new States into the Federal union under Article IV, section 3, clause 1. There is no provision in the US constitution for the admission of a state to the union that is on territory not owned by the US. So before the US Congress can admit a new State to the US the US must “own” the territory. According to the United States Supreme Court:

Neither the Constitution nor the laws passed in pursuance of it have any force in foreign territory unless in respect of our own citizens…, and operations of the nation in such territory must be governed by treaties, international understandings and compacts, and the principles of international law.[21]

Since the Hawaiian Islands were never annexed by the United States via treaty, Congressional acts, which are municipal laws, may only operate on the territory of the United States. The United States Supreme Court is relatively clear on this point and has stated that the “municipal laws of one nation do not extend in their operation beyond its own territory except as regards its own citizens.”[22] In another decision, the United States Supreme Court reiterated, that “our Constitution, laws and policies have no extraterritorial operation unless in respect of our own citizens.”[23]

Under international law, the United States is an occupying power in the Hawaiian Islands and as such the occupying Power is obligated, under Article 43 of the 1907 Hague Convention, IV, and Article 64 of the 1949 Geneva Convention, IV, to administer Hawaiian Kingdom laws. In his communication to the members of the Judiciary of the State of Hawai‘i of February 25, 2018, the United Nations Independent Expert, Dr. Alfred deZayas, reiterated this obligation under international law.

I have come to understand that the lawful political status of the Hawaiian Islands is that of a sovereign nation-state in continuity; but a nation-state that is under a strange form of occupation by the United States resulting from an illegal military occupation and fraudulent annexation. As such, international laws (the Hague and Geneva Conventions) require that governance and legal matters within the occupied territory of the Hawaiian Islands must be administered by the application of the laws of the occupied state (in this case, the Hawaiian Kingdom), not the domestic laws of the occupier (the United States) (Enclosure “6”).

The United States never acquired any kind of title to Ka‘ohe and, since one can only convey what one has, it could not convey what it did not have to the State of Hawai‘i under Section 5(b) of the 1959 Admissions Act. Thus the State of Hawai‘i was never lawfully vested with any title to the ahupua‘a of Ka‘ohe, and therefore its so-called general lease no. S-4191 to the University of Hawai‘i dated June 21, 1968 is defective. Under Hawaiian Kingdom law, the ahupua‘a of Ka‘ohe is government land under the management of the Ministry of  the Interior and not the State of Hawai‘i Board of Land and Natural Resources. Consequently, all 10 subleases from the University of Hawai‘i that extend to December 31, 2033 are defective as well, which include:

  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration dated November 29, 1974;
  • Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope Corporation dated December 18, 1975;
  • Science Research Council dated January 21, 1976;
  • California Institute of Technology dated December 20, 1983;
  • Science and Engineering Research Council dated February 10, 1984;
  • California Institute of Technology dated December 30, 1985;
  • Associated Universities, Inc., dated September 28, 1990;
  • National Astronomical Observatory of Japan dated June 5, 1992;
  • National Science Foundation dated September 26, 1994; and
  • Smithsonian Institution dated September 28, 1995.

 As such, the University of Hawai‘i’s sublease to TMT International Observatory, LLC, is also defective. Therefore, the University of Hawai‘i cannot sublease what it does not have to TMT International Observatory LLC.


[1] President Cleveland’s Message to the Congress (Dec. 18, 1893), p. 453, available online at https://hawaiiankingdom.org/pdf/Cleveland’s_Message_(12.18.1893).pdf.

[2] Id., p. 454.

[3] 107 Stat. 1510.

[4] L. Oppenheim, International Law, vol. 1, second edition, 286 (1912).

[5] 31 Cong. Rec. 6635 (1898).

[6] 33 Cong. Rec. 2391 (1900).

[7] Douglas Kmiec, Department of Justice, “Legal Issues Raised by Proposed Presidential Proclamation to Extend the Territorial Sea,” 12 Opinions of the Office of Legal Counsel 238 (1988).

[8] Id., p. 252.

[9] Id.

[10] In Re Conservation District Use Application for TMT, SCOT-17-0000777, Opinion, State of Hawai‘i Supreme Court (Oct. 30, 2018), p. 46.

[11] Black’s Law, 6th ed. (1990), p. 1452.

[12] Peter J. Smith, “New Legal Fictions,” 95 The Georgetown Law Journal 1435, 1437 (2007).

[13] Id.

[14] Id., p. 1440.

[15] Treaty of Guadalup Hidalgo, 9 Stat. 926 (1848).

[16] Constitution of the Republic of Hawai‘i, Roster Legislatures of Hawaii, 1841-1918 (1918) p. 198.

[17] Smith, “New Legal Fictions,” p. 1439.

[18] In Re Conservation District Use Application for TMT, SCOT-17-0000777, Opinion, State of Hawai‘i Supreme Court (Oct. 30, 2018), p. 46.

[19] United States v. Louisiana et al., 363 U.S. 1, 68 (1960).

[20] 73 Stat. 4.

[21] United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., 299 U.S. 304, 318 (1936).

[22] The Appollon, 22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 362 (1824).

[23] United States v. Belmont, 301 U.S. 324, 332 (1936).

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