Equal representation, extreme deviations
The attorney for eight voters challenging the state's reapportionment plan will file a brief on Tuesday before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The voters -- which include state Rep. K. Mark Takai -- want the high court to reject the plan because it excluded 108,767 military personnel, military spouses and children, and out-of-state college students from the pool of permanent residents when drawing state House and Senate district boundaries. The boundaries are redrawn every decade to reflect population changes after the census.
The group of voters is appealing to the Supreme Court after losing in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.
The brief from attorney Robert Thomas makes two main arguments: excluding the voters was a violation of equal protection; and there are extreme deviations in the size of districts to avoid so-called "canoe districts" that cover more than one island.
On equal representation:
At the direction of the Hawaii Supreme Court, the 2011 Hawaii Reappor tionment Commission (Commission) determined that 108,767 residents—nearly 8% of Hawaii’s Census- counted population—were not “permanent residents,” and thus could be excluded from Hawaii’s body politic because they did not intend to remain permanently: (1) active duty military personnel who indicated on a federal form that another state should withhold tax- es, (2) their spouses and children, and (3) students who did not qualify for in-state tuition. The Commission acknowledged those whom it “extracted” were not counted anywhere else, and that they were not represented equally in Hawaii. The District Court refused to apply close constitutional scrutiny, and concluded Hawaii’s “permanent resident” population basis was a rational means of protecting other residents’ voting power, which superseded the extracted classes’ right to equal representation. The Commission counted others who could not intend to remain permanently (e.g., undocumented aliens), or whose inclusion diluted voting power because they were not qualified to vote (prisoners, minors). The first question presented:
Does the Equal Protection Clause’s requirement of substantial population equality mandate that representational equality take precedence over voting power as held by the Ninth Circuit, or is the choice of whom to count left entirely to political processes, as held by the Fourth and Fifth Circuits and the District Court, and has Hawaii appropriately defined and uniformly applied “permanent residents” to deny the extracted persons equal representation?
On extreme deviations:
The Commission recognized that with overall deviations of 44.22% in the Senate and 21.57% in the House of Representatives— the product of Hawaii’s prohibition of “canoe districts” (districts spanning more than a single coun- ty)—the 2012 Reapportionment Plan was presumptively discriminatory. This Court has never upheld a reapportionment plan with deviations in excess of 16%, which “may well approach tolerable limits.” The District Court accepted these substantial departures from population equality because Hawaii is geographically and culturally different. The second question presented:
Is Hawaii’s prohibition on legislators representing people in more than one county a “substantial and compelling” justification rendering the 44.22% and 21.57% deviations “minor,” or are these deviations too large to be constitutionally acceptable?