Akaka: Ruling bodes well for recognition
The appeals court didn't mention sovereignty, but did note the plight of native Hawaiians
Although yesterday's appellate court ruling on Kamehameha Schools' admission policy did not specifically address the issue of federal recognition for native Hawaiians, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka says he believes it sent a strong message.
Akaka, the main backer of federal recognition, said, "There is no doubt that today's ruling recognizes the special circumstances of native Hawaiians."
A 15-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 8-7 yesterday in favor of Kamehameha Schools' admissions policy, overturning an earlier decision that said the practice was illegal.
Although the case did not focus on the issue of Hawaiian sovereignty, the majority opinion said that the preference policy was unique because Congress has singled out the plight of native Hawaiians as it has with Alaskan natives and American Indians.
The policy "furthers the urgent need for better education of Native Hawaiians, which Congress has repeatedly identified as necessary," the panel ruled.
Akaka has pushed for federal recognition of native Hawaiians to create a formal, political relationship with the U.S. government similar to that of American Indians. The latest effort fell short in June.
Akaka, who was re-elected last month, pledged to continue his fight.
"I remain committed to working with the Hawaii congressional delegation to enact legislation that will formalize the existing legal and political relationship native Hawaiians have with our federal government," the senator said in a news release.
State Attorney General Mark Bennett, who along with Gov. Linda Lingle backs preferences for native Hawaiians, said it is too early to tell what effect the Kamehameha Schools case could have on federal recognition efforts.
"At this point, really, we have to wait and see," Bennett said. "We have a new Congress coming in -- new leadership in the House and Senate."
Challengers to the schools' admissions policy said they plan to appeal the ruling.
Despite the closeness of the decision, at least one legal analyst said the ruling should be seen as a victory to native Hawaiians.
"The majority (opinion) clearly recognized the appropriateness of Congress recognizing the special status of native Hawaiians, the special relationship that the native Hawaiians have with the United States and the ability of Congress to pass programs for native Hawaiians," said Jon Van Dyke, a constitutional law professor at the University of Hawaii's Richardson School of Law, who supports federal recognition. "This gives the green light, I would think, for Congress to pass the Akaka Bill.
"I think it's clear that the court recognizes the role of Congress in dealing with native people and the appropriateness of Congress passing such legislation."