HONOLULU — A federal appeals court Monday dismissed an appeal about whether a vote seen as a step toward self-governance for Native Hawaiians should be open only to Native Hawaiians or to all of the state’s registered voters, saying the issue does not merit consideration because the U.S. Supreme Court issued an injunction against such a vote.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also said it was dismissing the appeal because the Nai Aupuni group of Native Hawaiians dissolved in April. The group did not want non-Native Hawaiians to elect 40 delegates to draft a self-governance document.
Kelii Akina, who was among those saying it wasn’t right for non-Native Hawaiians to be excluded from the vote, said he and the other plaintiffs were reviewing the appeals court decision to determine whether it would take additional legal steps.
The appeals court cited the Supreme Court’s December decision halting the vote and said it is possible that another Hawaii-based group may try to hold an election toward self-governance in the future.
But because no vote is scheduled, any opinion by the appeals court issued now would be “an impermissible advisory opinion that would, at most guide any future ratification efforts,” said the decision by a panel of three judges.
The lawyer who used to represent Nai Aupuni did not immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment on the appeals court decision.
Native Hawaiians have long sought self-determination. But there are differing opinions about what that would look like, from federal recognition to restoring the overthrown Hawaiian kingdom to dual citizenship.
Former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka spent more than a decade trying to pass a bill that would give Native Hawaiians the same rights extended to many Native Americans and Alaska Natives, such as land and cultural rights.
When it became clear that wouldn’t happen, the state passed a law in 2011 recognizing Hawaiians as the first people of Hawaii and laying the foundation for Native Hawaiians to establish their own government.