Federal appeals court upholds school’s admissions policy favoring Hawaiian natives
SAN FRANCISCO – A divided federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that a private school in Hawaii can favor Hawaiian natives for admission as a means of helping a downtrodden indigenous population.The 8-7 decision by a 15-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an earlier ruling by three of the same judges that the Kamehameha Schools policy amounted to unlawful discrimination.In Tuesday’s decision, the majority noted that the case was unique because Congress has singled out the plight of native Hawaiians for improvement, just as lawmakers have done with Alaskan natives and American Indians.The admissions policy “furthers the urgent need for better education of Native Hawaiians, which Congress has repeatedly identified as necessary,” the court said.The case was brought by a white student excluded because of his race.Admission to the elite school is first granted to qualified Hawaiian students, and non-Hawaiians may be admitted if there are openings available. Only one in eight eligible applicants is admitted to the school, which serves about 5,400 students at three campuses.Seven Republican judges opposed the policy; eight Democrats on the court supported it. Three dissenting judges wrote separately that civil rights law prohibits a private school from denying admission because of race.Eric Grant, the plaintiff’s attorney, said he would appeal to the Supreme Court. “Discrimination in favor of native Hawaiians and against other persons is racial discrimination,” he said.Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett urged the court to uphold the policy, citing Congress’ decision in 1991 to provide grants to the Kamehameha Schools and offer preferential loans to native Hawaiians.Congress “could not intend to bar an admission policy that it was supporting,” he said.The Kamehameha School was established under the 1883 will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop as part of a trust now worth $6.8 billion. The trust subsidizes tuition and is designed to help remedy some of the wrongs done during the U.S.-backed overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893.The decision came a day after the Supreme Court suggested during arguments in a different case that it might ban the practice of race-based admissions in public schools, even if the policy was intended to create racial harmony.The last time the Supreme Court ruled on a similar issue was in 2003, when justices banned the use of rigid formulas that award points based on race for admission to the University of Michigan and its law school.But the court that same year also permitted colleges to consider race as part of a “holistic review” of every application.
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