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U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Hold Native Hawaiian Election Group In Contempt

HONOLULU — (Mealey's) The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 19 denied a request by challengers to an election of Native Hawaiians to find the nonprofit organization conducting the election in civil contempt of the court’s prior injunction halting the election pending appeal (Keli’i Akina, et al. v. Hawaii, et al., No. 15A551, U.S. Sup.).


The election was organized by Na’i Aupuni, a Hawaiian nonprofit corporation that supports efforts to achieve Native Hawaiian self-governance. Hawaiian resident Keli’i Akina and several others challenged the election by suing the state, state officials and Na’i Aupuni in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii, alleging that the “race-based voting restrictions” used for the election violate the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 52 U.S. Code Section 10301 (Keli’i Akina, et al. v. State of Hawaii, et al., No. 15-00322, D. Hawaii).

After the District Court denied the challengers’ motion for an injunction to halt the election, they appealed to the Ninth Circuit, where they filed an urgent motion to enjoin the election process pending the outcome of their appeal (Keli’i Akina, et al., v. State of Hawaii, et al., No. 15-17134, 9th Cir.). The Ninth Circuit denied the motion and said briefing for the appeal would continue as scheduled.

The challengers then filed an emergency application for an injunction pending appellate review with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, the circuit justice for the Ninth Circuit, asking for action on the application by Nov. 30, when the election was due to end (Keli’i Akina, et al. v. State of Hawaii, et al., No. 15A551, U.S. Sup.). After Justice Kennedy issued an order enjoining Hawaii from counting the election votes or certifying the winners pending further order of the court, Na’i Aupuni extended the deadline to vote to Dec. 21.

A divided Supreme Court then granted the challengers’ application for an injunction, putting a stop to the election pending final disposition of the Ninth Circuit appeal.

Convention On

On Dec. 15, Na’i Aupuni stopped the election process but said the convention would still go on, with all 196 delegate candidates invited to attend.

In response to Na’i Aupuni’s announcement, the challengers on Dec. 22 filed a motion for civil contempt with the Supreme Court on the ground that Na’i Aupuni was certifying the winners of the election in violation of the court’s prior injunction.

“The motion of applicants Keli’i Akina, et al. for civil contempt is denied,” the high court said.


The challengers are represented by Michael A. Lilly of Ning Lilly & Jones in Honolulu, Robert D. Popper, Paul J. Orfanedes, Lauren M. Burke and Chris Fedeli of Judicial Watch Inc. in Washington, D.C., and H. Christopher Coates of Law Offices of H. Christopher Coates in Charleston, S.C.

Hawaii and the state defendants are represented by Donna H. Kalama of State of Hawaii, Major Litigation Unit, in Honolulu and Girard D. Lau and Robert T. Nakatsuji of the Office of the Attorney General in Honolulu.

Na’i Aupuni is represented by Meheula and Nadine Y. Ando of Sullivan Meheula Lee in Honolulu and David J. Minkin, Jessica M. Wan and Troy J.H. Andrade of McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon in Honolulu.

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