Ige sued over TMT emergency declaration

  • Gov. David Ige

A Hilo kumu hula has filed a lawsuit against Gov. David Ige, claiming the state of emergency declared last week is a violation of his rights as a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner and in violation of the state’s emergency management law.

Attorney David Kopper of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. filed the civil suit Thursday in Honolulu Circuit Court on behalf of Paul Neves, a Keaukaha resident and member of the Royal Order of Kamehameha.


The lawsuit has been assigned to Judge Gary Chang. According to the state Judiciary website, no hearing on the complaint has yet been scheduled.

The complaint accuses Ige of “weaponization of an emergency proclamation in the absence of a natural disaster or bona fide emergency” that “exceeds his statutory authority to issue such proclamations in times of crisis and threats to the population of Hawaii.” It also claims Ige “abused his executive authority to favor and accommodate TMT construction activities while suppressing and violating the rights of the public to express their opposition to the project and the rights of Native Hawaiians to honor, worship and protect Maunakea.”

The suit calls Ige’s declaration “a draconian emergency proclamation that allows him to operate outside of the protections and procedures provided by state laws with impunity.”

The emergency proclamation signed Wednesday by Ige is effective until Aug. 2 and grants sweeping powers to law enforcement.

On Thursday, Dan Dennison, spokesman for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources declined to discuss specifics of those powers and how they may be used because of “operational security.”

While people were allowed to ascend Maunakea Access Road on foot earlier in the week, Dennison said Thursday that foot traffic up the mountain would be restricted, as well.

“Because of the emergency proclamation and the additional authority law enforcement has, they can restrict access to anyone and everyone, including practitioners,” Dennison said.

Ige issued the proclamation after protesters — who call themselves kia‘i or protectors of the mountain — had blocked Saddle Road, also known as Daniel K. Inouye Highway. The road was closed for about three hours Wednesday afternoon.

The governor said the emergency proclamation will help law enforcers better secure access to the mountain.

“Even though law enforcement has done everything it can to talk and reason with protesters, the protesters have continued to break the law and place the safety of the public at risk,” Ige said at the time.

The suit asks the judge to void the state of emergency, declare that Ige has violated Article XII, Section 7 of the state Constitution, which guarantees “all rights, customarily and traditionally exercised for subsistence, cultural and religious purposes and possessed by ahupua’a tenants who are descendants of native Hawaiians who inhabited the Hawaiian Islands prior to 1778 … subject to the right of the state to regulate such right,” and to declare Ige violated Hawaii Revised Statutes, Section 127A, also known as the emergency management law.

Relief sought in this particular suit doesn’t include a stop to TMT.

Neves is, however one of a number of plaintiffs in another lawsuit filed in Hilo Circuit Court seeking a temporary restraining order halting the construction of the $1.4 billion telescope project on Maunakea. A hearing on that litigation is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.


The governor’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment as of deadline Saturday.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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