A closely divided Supreme Court on Wednesday temporarily blocked Hawaii from counting votes in an election open only to descendants of its indigenous people, who were selecting delegates to an assembly that would propose greater self-government for Native Hawaiians. Several Hawaii residents who object to the process sued to cancel the election, contending the state has applied an unconstitutional racial test for voting, among other claims. The state argued the election wasn’t an official act at all, because a private nonprofit, Na’i Aupuni, formally is conducting it with grant funds provided by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Lower courts wouldn’t halt the election while the lawsuit proceeds, but the Supreme Court saw the matter differently. The high court forbade the counting of ballots or certification of winners until a “final disposition of the appeal” by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in San Francisco.
The brief order said liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer,Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan would have permitted the election to proceed, but provided no other details.
The election, conducted by mail, was to conclude with a Dec. 1 vote count. On Friday, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who oversees Hawaii and other states in the Ninth Circuit, blocked the vote count, a decision the full court extended Wednesday.