Having lost two previous rounds in court, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii prevailed on Friday when a U.S. Supreme Court justice put a stay on the counting of votes in a Native Hawaiian election.

But its unclear what’s next, and both sides in the debate are expressing confidence in their respective positions.

The nonprofit, right-leaning Grassroot Institute is suing to stop the election of delegates to a convention that could determine a path for self-determination. It is joined in its battle by the conservative Judicial Watch.

Kealii Akina of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii and attorney Michael Lilly outside District Court earlier this fall.

Kelii Akina of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii and attorney Michael Lilly outside District Court earlier this fall.

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

Thus far, the plaintiffs have failed to persuade a U.S. District Court judge in Hawaii and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to accept its view that the Nai Aupuni election is unconstitutional because it applies only to Hawaiians.

But Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy has now issued a temporary stay in the counting of the votes, which are in the process of being cast by about 90,000 qualified Native Hawaiian voters via mail and online this month. The voting is scheduled to end Monday and the winning delegates — 40 positions for more than 200 candidates — were scheduled to be announced Tuesday.

OHA attorney Robert Klein and Nai Aupuni attorney Bill Meheula talk to reporters after a U.S. District Court ruling in their favor.

OHA attorney Robert Klein and Nai Aupuni attorney Bill Meheula talk to reporters after a U.S. District Court ruling in their favor in October.

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

Kelii Akina, the Grassroot president, calls the temporary stay a victory for equality and “the Aloha Spirit.”

“We are very grateful for the wisdom of the Court in upholding the Constitution,” he stated in a press release. “Today’s ruling from Justice Kennedy is not just a victory for us, but a victory for the many Native Hawaiians who have been misrepresented and overridden by government and special interests determined to create a government-recognized tribe. It’s a victory for all Hawaiians — and all Americans — in its affirmation of racial equality. Finally, it is a victory for the Aloha Spirit which enables people of all backgrounds to live and work together in harmony.”

However, Bill Meheula, attorney for Nai Aupuni, characterized Kennedy’s action as but an unsurprising impediment to self-governance.

“Native Hawaiian self-governance has been discussed for over 120 years without tangible results,” he said in a statement. “While the counting of votes has been temporarily enjoined by the United States Supreme Court, we are confident that Judge Michael Seabright, Hawaii’s Federal Court chief judge, correctly denied Grassroot Institute’s motion to enjoin the election and that Judge Seabright’s order will ultimately be affirmed.”

Seabright ruled that the election is a private matter not involving the state.

Meheula added, “Most importantly, the USSC’s order did not bar voting. Nai Aupuni encourages all voters to continue voting for the delegate candidates who will participate in the aha or constitutional convention with the goal of making self-governance recommendations for ratification by voters. Reorganizing a government is not easy and it takes the courage and will of the candidates to take the first step in this historic process. It is every voter’s kuleana to help them by voting now.”

The Office of Hawaiin Affairs-funded Nai Aupuni says it as an independent organization that exists only to facilitate a path toward Hawaiian self-determination.

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