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Court okays Hawaiians-first school policy

A divided federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that a private school in Hawaii can favor applicants of Hawaiian ancestry as a means of helping the downtrodden population.

The 8-7 decision by a 15-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an earlier ruling by three of the same judges that the Kamehameha Schools policy amounted to unlawful discrimination.

In Tuesday's decision, the majority noted that the case was unique because Congress has singled out the plight of people of Hawaiian ancestry for improvement, just as lawmakers have done with Alaskan natives and American Indians. Seven Republican judges opposed the policy; eight Democrats on the court supported it. Three dissenting judges wrote separately that civil rights law prohibits a private school from denying admission because of race.

The case was brought by a white student excluded because of his race. Attorney Eric Grant said he plans to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The school was established as part of a trust designed to help remedy some of the wrongs done during the U.S.-backed overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893.