U.S. appeals court to reconsider Hawaiians-only admission policy

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

The United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Wednesday voted to reconsider an earlier decision against Kamehameha Schools, an independent school in Honolulu, regarding the legality of its admission policy that favors Native Hawaiians.

A majority of the 23 eligible judges (one judge from Hawaii recused himself) on the 9th Circuit Court voted to reconsider the August 2, 2005 decision, in which the court ruled 2-1 that the school's admission policy violates federal civil rights law by absolutely barring non-Hawaiians from attending the school.

A date has not been set for the rehearing of the case before a so-called en banc panel of 15 of the 24 judges.

The case was filed in June 2003 on behalf of an anonymous non-Hawaiian student who applied for admission to Kamehameha and was rejected. U.S. District Judge Alan Kay ruled in November 2003 that Kamehameha's admission policy was not in violation of civil rights law, citing the school's unique historical circumstances and its mission in remediating the socioeconomic and educational disadvantages that Native Hawaiians face. Kay's ruling was overturned by the 9th Circuit in its August 2005 ruling.

The student is currently completing his final year at a public high school. The rehearing of the case means that the student will most likely not be able to attend Kamehameha before he graduates in June.

Kamehameha Schools was established in the 1884 will of Hawaiian princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last direct descendant of King Kamehameha I. Her will directed that the schools give "preference to Hawaiians of pure or part aboriginal blood." [1]

Kamehameha Schools' admission policy, according to its web site, is to "give preference to applicants of Hawaiian ancestry to the extent permitted by law." [2] In theory, qualified non-Hawaiians may be admitted after all qualified Hawaiian applicants are offered admission, but in practice there are usually fewer spaces than there are qualified Hawaiian applicants.