Federal judge won’t stop Native Hawaiian election

Attorneys in the case discussed the judge's ruling out U.S. District Court on Friday

Attorneys in the case discussed the judge’s ruling out U.S. District Court on Friday. Lead Naʻi Aupuni lawyer Bill Meheula is at center.

Posted: Oct 23, 2015 11:30 AM HST Updated: Oct 23, 2015 11:40 AM HST

The Na’i Aupuni election is set for Nov. 1, 2015.

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.

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.

Meanwhile, the state 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, had said the vote is a clear violation of the 15th Amendment.

“You can’t hold a race-based election — and that’s exactly what’s going on,” he said. “Based on our history, if anything is not permitted it’s to screen people based on their race and then decide if they can vote.”

The state says their involvement was limited to creating the roll of eligible Native Hawaiians, kana’iolowalu, who chould 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.

Seabright had said he’ll rule from the bench with an explanation for his decision, and will issue a detailed written order later.

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