The Supreme Court on Friday blocked votes from being counted in a controversial Hawaii election designed to be a major step toward Native Hawaiian self-governance.
Critics of the election, who had asked the Supreme Court to intervene, argue the vote is an unconstitutional, racially exclusive process.
Justice Anthony Kennedy issued a brief order on Friday barring ballots from being counted or certified in the race, “pending further order.”
Native Hawaiians have been voting to elect delegates for a convention next year to come up with a self-governance document to be ratified by Native Hawaiians. Voting was set to end Monday.
But a group of Native Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians challenged the election, arguing Hawaii residents who don't have Native Hawaiian ancestry are being excluded from the vote, in violation of their constitutional rights.
Defendants include the state and Nai Aupuni, the nonprofit organization guiding the election process.
Native Hawaiians are the last remaining indigenous group in the United States that hasn't been allowed to establish its own government.
U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright in Honolulu ruled last month the purpose of the private election is to establish self-determination for the indigenous people of Hawaii. Those elected won't be able to alter state or local laws, he said.
The challengers appealed and also filed an emergency motion to block the votes from being counted. Last week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the emergency motion, prompting the challengers to appeal to the high court.
Racial exclusivity goes against Hawaiian values, said one of the Native Hawaiian plaintiffs, Kelii Akina, who is also president of public policy think-tank Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.
"The Hawaiian Kingdom consisted of citizens of multiples races including Native Hawaiians, Japanese, Chinese, Caucasians and others," he said. "This racial inclusiveness is at the heart of the aloha spirit."
Election supporters argue it's crucial that the vote move forward because it presents a unique opportunity that has evaded Native Hawaiians for more than 100 years.
"The western way of life has not necessarily been good to us," Clyde Namuo, executive director of the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission and a delegate candidate, said last month. "We will be able to control our destiny in a better way if we form our government."
Fox News’ Shannon Bream and The Associated Press contributed to this report.