Hawai’i Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Mauna Kea

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Hawai’i Supreme Court justices heard arguments Thursday in the battle to keep one of the world’s largest telescopes off Mauna Kea.

Six petitioners are arguing that the state erred when granting a conservation district use permit for the Thirty Meter Telescope project. Opponents are arguing, among other things, that the state did not follow due process when the permit was issued prior to having a contested case hearing. They’re also arguing that TMT does not meet the eight criteria needed to build in a conservation district.

Their case went before the Hawai’i Supreme Court Thursday after bypassing the Intermediate Court of Appeals. Lawyers for the state, University of Hawaii and the six petitioners provided oral arguments.

The Associated Press reports that justices pressed the question as to why the state issued the permit when there were ongoing challenges to the TMT, and also asked questions about the impact the telescope would have on Mauna Kea.


The 18-story telescope will sit on five acres on the mountain’s northern plateau. If built, it would be the largest facility on the mountain.

According to a legal brief filed on behalf of the State Land Board, the board previously argued the project would not have negative impacts on Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners since it’s not being built on the summit or Kukaha‘ula of the mountain.

Native Hawaiians and their supporters have gathered in numbers during recent months arguing the entire mountain is sacred, not just one portion.


The issue of due process also surfaced during the hearing and AP quoted Associate Justice Sabrina McKenna saying “A fair trial in a fair tribunal is a basic requirement of due process. Do you think that due process would allow the court, for example, in trial in a situation in which a plaintiff filed a lawsuit, for the judge to say, ‘Here is my judgment in favor of the plaintiff. We will now have a trial. And if you convince me otherwise, I’ll change my mind?”

The TMT project formed in 2003 and involves observatories and universities from Canada, Japan, China, India and the United States.

The telescope is anticipated to be the largest of its kind, with a primary mirror that would be approximately 30 meters in diameter.


The European Extremely Large Telescope, expected to be the world’s largest telescope, is set to be built in Chile.

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