Supporters of a Native Hawaiian election of delegates to a February convention are urging voters to submit their ballots by the Monday deadline, despite an order Friday by U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy temporarily halting the counting of ballots or certification of winners. Kennedy’s one-sentence order was terse, saying only “respondents are enjoined from counting the ballots cast in, and certifying the winners of, the election described in the application, pending further order of the undersigned or of the Court.” It’s not uncommon for a single justice, the one assigned to a specific circuit, to unilaterally issue an order, Todd Belt, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, said Friday. It’s much less common for the court to act so quickly, Belt said. He said a notable example was the case of Bush v. Gore, during the contested 2000 presidential election. “They’ve been known to take cases very quickly,” Belt said. “It’s happened in the past and generally it’s done if there’s some sort of inherent harm.”
A group of Native Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians challenged the election, arguing Hawaii residents who don’t have Native Hawaiian ancestry are excluded from the vote, in violation of their constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright in Honolulu ruled last month the purpose of the private election is to establish self-determination for the indigenous people of Hawaii. Those elected won’t be able to alter state or local laws, he said.
The challengers appealed and also filed an emergency motion to block the votes from being counted. Last week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the emergency motion, prompting the challengers to appeal to the high court.
“This is a significant victory for us,” Kelii Akina, president of the Honolulu-based Grassroot Institute and one of the plaintiffs in the case brought by Judicial Watch, said in a statement. “After a full briefing, Justice Kennedy decided that the issue was worthy of further examination, and issued the injunction we requested. We are confident in our position, and excited at the possibility that it could go before the full Court.”