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Supreme Court says redrawn political districts unconstitutional

By Ken Kobayashi

LAST UPDATED: 4:25 p.m. HST, Jan 4, 2012

Order Granting Petition 1.4

The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled 5-0 today that the state Reapportionment Commission's plan to set state political boundaries is "constitutionally invalid" because it counts nonpermanent residents, such as military members and some students.

The court ordered the commission to prepare and file a new reapportionment plan that allocates members of the state Legislature based on the distribution of permanent residents.

Opponents of the original plan said counting nonpermanent residents shifted the population base in a way that denied Hawaii County from gaining an additional state Senate seat (and taking one away from Oahu).

Hawaii officials adjust political district boundaries every 10 years, following the Census, to reflect population shifts.

Earlier today, the commission's proposed redistricting plan came under sharp questioning by justices of the Hawaii Supreme Court.

The five-member court heard arguments on a challenge that the plan doesn't go far enough in excluding nonpermanent residents as mandated by the Hawaii constitution.

Stanley Roehrig, Big Island attorney for state Sen. Malama Solomon, argued that the commissioners should have excluded an estimated 120,000 nonpermanent residents.

But Russell Suzuki, deputy attorney general representing the commission, said the commission didn't have reliable data on the number of nonpermanent residents.

Suzuki, however, agreed with Associate Justice Simeon Acoba, one of justices who raised concerns about the plan. 

Acoba suggested that the test for the plan should not be "mathematical precision," but that the commission makes an "honest, good faith" effort in drawing up the boundaries to reflect equal representation.

Deputy Attorney General Charleen Aina, on behalf of Gov. Neil Abercrombie, told the justices that the governor thinks the plan is in error and that nonpermanent residents should be excluded.

"The fact that it is hard does not allow the commission not to do it," Aina said.

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