In 1964, several Hawaiian voters filed a federal lawsuit against various state officials alleging that the apportionment of Hawaii's legislative districts violated the Equal Protection Clause's requirement that legislative apportionments produce "substantially equal representation for all citizens" as the Court laid out in Reynolds v. Sims. The plaintiffs' claims centered around a provision in Hawaii's Constitution that permitted the state's legislative districts to be apportioned with equal populations of registered voters, rather than equal populations of total people, in each district, which resulted in the number of representatives elected by some counties being disproportionate to their overall populations. For example, using the registered voter basis produced a map wherein Oahu county, with 79% of the state's total population, elected only 10 of the state's 25 state senators.
In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the defendants-state officials. The Court recognized that due to Hawaii's unique population problems, including the large concentrations of non-resident military personnel temporarily stationed on certain islands, it was appropriate for the state to use a different metric than total population for legislative apportionment purposes, such as state citizen population. The Court stated that although Hawaii's use of registered voters was not a permissible basis for legislative apportionment in itself, it could nevertheless be used so long as it produced a distribution of legislators that was "not substantially different" than that which would've resulted from using state citizen population figures as the basis.
Significance: The 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause does not categorically require that state legislative districts be apportioned on the basis of total population figures from the decennial census.
U.S. Supreme Court - 384 U.S. 73 (1966)
- Opinion - 4/25/66