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Federal court upholds Hawaii reapportionment plan

By B.J. Reyes

LAST UPDATED: 2:18 a.m. HST, Jul 12, 2013

The 2012 reapportionment and redistricting plan does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court said in upholding its previous decision to deny an injunction sought by a group of voters that challenged the plan.

In May 2012, the three judges of the U.S. District Court in Honolulu denied a preliminary injunction being sought by plaintiffs that challenged the plan as unconstitutional because it excludes 108,000 so-called "nonpermanent" residents from the population base used to allocate legislative seats among islands and determine boundaries for voter districts.

The 2012 August primary and November general elections proceeded under the plan drawn up by the state Reapportionment Commission.

“The (Reapportionment) Commission’s reliance on a permanent resident population base, as ordered by the Hawaii Supreme Court, is permissable under the Equal Protection Clause,” the judges wrote in their ruling, issued Thursday, on the merits of the overall case. “Likewise, the disparities in the size of the Commission’s legislative districts pass constitutional muster.”

Reapportionment occurs every 10 years to redraw voter district boundaries to reflect changes in the population recorded in the most recent U.S. Census.

The state Attorney General's office had argued against the injunction citing previous federal cases that said the state may exclude certain residents from the population base to prevent distortions that might occur if large numbers of temporary residents were counted. State attorneys also argued that the election planning process was too far along to start over and having to draw new district maps could cause extensive delays and jeopardize the Aug. 11 primary and potentially the Nov. 6 general election.

Attorneys representing the eight voters who filed the challenge, argued that excluding nonpermanent residents — non-resident military members and their dependents along with students who pay nonresident tuition — violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit also contends the commission created districts of unequal size, leading to disproportionate representation in the state Legislature.

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