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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 11:17 a.m., Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Court rules 8-7 for Hawaiians-first admission policy

By David Kravets
Associatd Press Legal Affairs Writer


Attorney Eric Grant and Brayden Mohica-Cummings and mother Kalena Santos speak to reporters in 2003.

Advertiser library photo

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SAN FRANCISCO — A divided federal appeals court ruled today that Kamehameha Schools can favor Hawaiian natives for admission to help a downtrodden indigenous population.

The 8-7 decision by a 15-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the court's three-judge decision that the Kamehameha Schools policy amounted to unlawful discrimination.

The majority noted that the case, brought by a white student excluded from admission to the private school because of his race, was unique because Congress has singled out the plight of native Hawaiians as they have with Alaskan natives and American Indians.

The policy, the court ruled, "furthers the urgent need for better education of Native Hawaiians, which Congress has repeatedly identified as necessary."

Three of the dissenting judges wrote separately that civil rights law "prohibits a private school from denying admission to prospective students because of their race."

The Kamehameha Schools was established under the 1883 will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop as part of a trust now worth about $6.8 billion.

Part of the school's mission is to counteract historic disadvantages Native Hawaiians face in employment, education and society.

The trust subsidizes tuition and is designed to reverse the economic and educational plight of Native Hawaiians and to help remedy some of the wrongs done during the U.S.-backed overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893.

The nation's largest federal appeals court rehears cases with larger panels if the judges agree to do so.

The case is John Doe v. Kamehameha Schools, 04-15044.