U.S. Supreme Court Denies Challenge to Kamehameha Admissions Policy

by Staff on May 17, 2011

Was Bishop's vision in violation of civil rights?

The U.S. Supreme Court may have put an end to the legal case of four anonymous students challenging Kamehameha School’s admissions policy.  But the racially charged issue, questions of discrimination, and arguments of ancestry are likely to continue.

This is not the first time the school’s admissions policy has been contested in a court of law, and it may not be the last.  In 2007, with the help of Sacramento, California attorney Eric Grant, an unnamed, non-Hawaiian boy and his mother filed a suit against Kamehameha Schools, claiming that the policy that gives preference to native Hawaiians was unconstitutional and violated the student’s civil rights.  But just days before the Supreme Court was to decide whether or not they would even hear the case, Kamehameha Schools negotiated a settlement, to the tune of $7 million.

Grant’s most recent clients, the four unidentified students, did not meet the same financially favorable fate.  Despite the former case, Kamehameha representatives stood firm on their request for full disclosure of the four students’ identities and made no moves to settle outside of court.  And in the end, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Whether the high court made their decision based on the lack of disclosure, believes civil rights have been violated, or supports Kamehameha’s policy is uncertain.  The court offered no comment when they handed down their decision.

Grant and the students’ other lawyer, David Rosen, insist that the Supreme Court’s decision is “is in no way an endorsement of that policy”, which arguably leaves an opening for others to bring similar cases against Kamehameha.  But in a statement shared by the Star Advertiser, the lawyers admit that they fear the most recent decision will make it tough to challenge Kamehameha’s policy in the future. “Regrettably,” they said, “we believe that this precedent will make it extremely difficult for the illegality of Kamehameha Schools’ racially exclusionary admissions policy to be resolved in the courts”.

Is Kamehameha’s admissions policy, in actuality, racist, exclusionary or illegal?  While Grant, Rosen, and several anonymous students argue so, supporters of the policy point to the fact that it does not prevent non-Hawaiians from applying.  Rather, it states that Hawaiians are given preference.  Bernice Pauahi Bishop – whose endowment and vision Kamehameha Schools was founded on – requested that Kamehameha Schools “devote a portion of each year’s income to the support and education of orphans, and others in indigent circumstances, giving the preference to Hawaiians of pure or part aboriginal blood” (Source).

This practice of preference is not uncommon in our country.  Numerous scholarship and grant applications note similar preferences and priority given to “minorities” and sometimes, more specifically named ethnicities.  This does not mean people of all races are prohibited from applying or being awarded, but rather openly states that preference is given to a group designated by the funders to serve the purpose of the scholarship/grant opportunity.

In the case of Kamehameha, the purpose of the schools as set forth by Bernice Pauahi Bishop, is to create educational opportunities to improve the “capability and well-being of people of Hawaiian ancestry”.  Can her support of her people be construed as a violation of others civil rights?  The question is certainly controversial.  But at least for now, due to the Supreme Court’s recent decision, Kamehameha’s contested admissions policy will stand.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: