(CN) – The 9th Circuit affirmed dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the allegedly race-based admissions policy at Hawaii’s Kamehameha Schools, saying non-native students can’t proceed as plaintiffs without disclosing their identities.
Hawaii’s Kamehameha Schools were established in 1884, more than 10 years before Hawaii was annexed as a U.S. territory, to preserve Hawaiian culture and identity.
The schools provide classes on Hawaiian culture and teach classes in the Hawaiian language. Their trust totals $9.1 billion, a private education endowment surpassed by few U.S. universities.
In 2003, a non-native student was admitted to the Kamehameha Schools, only to have his admission rescinded after the schools learned he wasn’t a native Hawaiian.
A federal judge ordered the school to admit him temporarily, and he was later allowed to re-enroll as part of a settlement with Kamehameha.
But the court order led to a “growing sense of anger and rage” among native Hawaiians and threats of “kill haole (white person) day everyday,” according to the U.S. Attorney for Hawaii.
That ruling was followed by a similar settlement involving an unnamed “Doe” student who’d been denied admission. That case was settled pending Doe’s appeal to the Supreme Court, and the schools never challenged the plaintiff’s anonymity.
The day after the settlement, Doe’s attorney announced plans to file another lawsuit, this time with four student plaintiffs, in a bid for Supreme Court review. The lawyer wanted the justices to weigh in on the full 9th Circuit’s earlier finding that the admissions policy is a valid affirmative action plan.
Citing the backlash from the previous cases, the four non-native students sought to proceed anonymously, arguing that they feared retaliation.
The mother of the first Doe plaintiff, who settled his case, recounted that after news of the settlement was leaked to the Honolulu press, there were calls to “break [the plaintiff and his attorney’s] every bone and make [those] bastards suffer.” Hawaiians reportedly wanted the mother and son’s identities revealed in order to force them “to stand up and face those that they are robbing,” the mother claimed in an affidavit.
But the federal judge in the current case denied the four students’ request to remain anonymous, saying the children “do not reasonably fear severe harm.”
The 9th Circuit agreed.
“We are sympathetic to the concerns of the Doe children and their parents, but we recognize the paramount importance of open courts,” Judge Robert Beezer wrote for the Honolulu-based panel.
Beezer also noted that the panel was “constrained by the applicable standard of review,” in this case whether the lower court had abused its discretion.
“Had the district court found that anonymity was appropriate, we likely would have concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion,” Beezer wrote. “Or, were we permitted to make findings and weigh the factors anew, we might have held that anonymity here was appropriate. As it is, however, we review the district court’s decision only for abuse of discretion.”
The case was properly dismissed, the court concluded, because the plaintiffs refused to disclose their identities.