SAN FRANCISCO — A divided federal appeals court yesterday ruled a Hawaiian private school can favor Hawaiian natives for admission as a means of giving a helping hand to a downtrodden indigenous population.
The decision by a majority of a 15-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the court's three-judge decision that the Kamehameha Schools policy amounted to unlawful discrimination.
The majority noted that the case, brought by a white student excluded because of his race, was unique because Congress has singled out the plight of native Hawaiians as lawmakers have with Alaskan natives and American Indians.
The policy, the court ruled, "furthers the urgent need for better education of Native Hawaiians, which Congress has repeatedly identified as necessary."
Three of the dissenting judges wrote separately that civil rights law prohibits a private school from denying admission because of race.
The Kamehameha Schools were established under the 1883 will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop as part of a trust now worth about $6.8 billion.
The trust subsidizes tuition and is designed to help remedy some of the wrongs done during the American-backed overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893.