Federal judge won't stop Native Hawaiian election
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - U.S. District Court Judge Michael Seabright says an election for Native Hawaiians can move forward next month.
The Na'i Aupuni election is set for Nov. 1, 2015.
"I believe the evidence demonstrates that the Native Hawaiian election is a private election and not a state election," Seabright said.
Native Hawaiians who are registered to vote will have the opportunity to elect delegates who will then meet at a convention, or 'aha, next year to decide what type of nation or government, if any, will be created or reorganized.
Seabright ruled that even though public funds were used for the effort there was enough separation between the organizations and the state that it is essentially a private election, which can be conducted among a specific group.
"This removes a huge obstacle. And solves the issue of whether or not we're going to have an election," said former Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert Klein, who represents the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
A group of both Native and non-Native Hawaiians had sued to prevent the election, saying it's unconstitutional to restrict voting to only Native Hawaiians.
The lawyers who brought the lawsuit are expected to appeal.
"It's simply wrong for the state government to use public resources to promote a racially discriminatory process," said Kelii Akina, CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.
Meanwhile, the election's organizers argued constitutional protections only apply to government agencies or private entities acting on behalf of the state.
Bill Meheula, an attorney for Na'i Aupuni, maintained the lawsuit ignored the facts.
"They sued us under the law that says if we're going to be a state actor, we have to change state law -- and we're saying we're not changing state law. What we're doing is we're electing delegates, Hawaiian leaders, to come together and decide Hawaiian future in terms of self-determination and we don't know what that's going to be."
But Robert Popper, a Judicial Watch lawyer representing the plaintiffs, argues the vote is a clear violation of the 15th Amendment.
In a statement issued Friday, Popper said, "Hawaii's own attorneys said in open court that this is an historic election -- and we represent Hawaiian citizens who can't vote in it because they are the wrong race."
The state says their involvement was limited to creating the roll of eligible Native Hawaiians, kana'iolowalu, who could choose to participate -- and has nothing to do with the election itself to determine self-governance.
Native Hawaiians are the only indigenous group in the United States that hasn't been allowed to establish their own government.
In court on Tuesday, both sides argued Na'i Aupuni would be a historic election because it would provide the first chance for self-determination since the Hawaiian kingdom was overthrown in 1893.
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