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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 11:52 a.m., Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Court to rehear Kamehameha admissions case

 •  Lingle, Bennett say they are happy with court's decision to rehear case

By Ken Kobayashi and Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writers

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will rehear the case involving a non-Hawaiian student seeking to enroll at Kamehameha Schools.

The ruling today is a blow to the hopes of the unnamed non-Hawaiian student seeking to gain entrance to the school whose policy is aimed at admitting only students with Hawaiian blood.

The decision essentially sets aside for now a 2-1 decision by a three-member panel of the court that ruled in favor of the non-Hawaiian student on Aug. 2. The majority opinion in that panel's ruling declared that the school admission policy violated federal civil rights law.

Lawyers for the student had argued the admission policy violates federal laws, while school supporters said the policy is necessary to address social, educational and economic disadvantages faced by Native Hawaiians.

In a brief order, the appeals court said the decision to rehear the case was based on a vote by a majority of the active 9th Circuit judges who did not disqualify themselves from the case.

The non-Hawaiian student, who has not been identified, is currently a senior attending another school. He wanted to enroll at Kamehameha before he graduates this year.

Because Kamehameha Schools challenged the ruling and asked for a rehearing, the enforcement of the 2-1 decision was stayed and the student was not permitted to enroll at Kamehameha.

By granting the rehearing request, a panel of 15 appeals judges will be rehearing the case, according to Kamehameha spokesman Kekoa Paulsen.

Today's order said the 2-1 decision cannot be cited as precedent pending the ruling by the larger panel.

It was not immediately clear when the larger panel will rehear the case or when it will issue a decision.

Kamehameha officials were pleased with the development.

Robert Kihune, chairman of the Kamehameha Board of Trustees, said the decision "signals that the appeals court agrees that this lawsuit raises unique issues of exceptional importance to Native Hawaiians."

Kihune added: "We are hopeful that when the case is reheard the court will reverse the panel decision and allow Kamehameha to continue to direct our resources to those children who are in need of our programs and are the intended beneficiaries of this trust."

Kamehameha chief executive officer Dee Jay Mailer said the preference policy is critical to fulfilling the school's educational mission as spelled out by its founder, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, as it endeavors to extend its reach further into Hawaiian communities.

"Pauahi felt a kuleana (responsibility) to provide educational opportunities for the Hawaiian people," Mailer said. "She entrusted that kuleana to the leadership of Kamehameha Schools. We will not let her down."