BURNS V. RICHARDSON, 384 U. S. 73 (1966)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Burns v. Richardson, 384 U.S. 73 (1966)

Burns v. Richardson

No. 318

Argued February 21, 1966

Decided April 25, 1966*

384 U.S. 73


The Hawaii Constitution provides that three small counties elect 15 of 25 state senators, while the fourth county (Oahu), with 79% of the State's population, elects 10. Under an apportionment authorized by the Constitution, Oahu has been allocated 36 of the 51 seats in the state house of representatives, the representatives being elected from multi-member districts apportioned on the basis of the number of registered voters in each. Suit was brought in federal district court attacking the apportionment plan. The District Court held the senate, but not the house, apportionment unconstitutional, and directed the legislature to submit to the voters the question of a convention to amend the constitution. On motion of intervening legislators, it modified its order to require the enactment of three statutes: (1) an interim senate apportionment plan, using registered voters as a basis, to be submitted to the court, for use in the 1966 election, (2) a constitutional amendment embodying pertinent provisions of the interim plan for submission to the voters at that election, and (3) submission to the electorate of the question of calling a constitutional convention. The senate apportionment plan adopted by the legislature allocated 19 of the 25 senators to Oahu on the basis of registered voters. The senators were to be elected from five multi-member districts. The District Court, while expressly approving the use of a registered voters basis, disapproved the plan because of the failure to create single member districts, and reinstated its earlier order requiring immediate resort to the convention method.


1. In permitting legislative action, the District Court should have allowed legislative review of the entire apportionment scheme, without restricting the available choices for interim and permanent plans. Pp. 384 U. S. 83-86.

Page 384 U. S. 74

2. The proposed senate reapportionment plan, together with the existing house apportionment, constitutes an interim arrangement which has not been shown to fall short of federal standards. Pp. 384 U. S. 85-97.

(a) The Equal Protection Clause does not require that at least one house of a bicameral legislature consist of single member districts. The legislative choice of multi-member districts is subject to constitutional challenge only upon a showing that the plan was designed to or would operate to minimize or cancel out the voting strength of racial or political groups, and no such showing was made. Pp. 384 U. S. 88-89.

(b) Although both houses of the legislature must be apportioned substantially on a population basis, the Equal Protection Clause does not require the use of total population figures derived from the federal census as the only standard to measure substantial population equivalency. Pp. 384 U. S. 90-92.

(c) Hawaii's registered voters basis, depending in part upon political activity and chance factors, is not itself a permissible population basis, but may be used so long as it produces a distribution of legislators not substantially different from that which would result from use of a permissible population basis. Pp. 384 U. S. 92-93.

(d) Hawaii's special population problems, including large concentrations of military and other transients centered on Oahu, suggest that state citizen population, rather than total population, is the appropriate comparative guide. Pp. 384 U. S. 94-95.

(e) The registered voters basis is acceptable for the interim plan in view of the District Court's conclusion that the apportionment achieved by its use substantially approximated that which would have occurred had state citizen population been the guide. Pp. 384 U. S. 95-96.

3. The District Court is directed on remand to enter an order adopting the proposed senate reapportionment plan plus the existing house apportionment as an interim legislative apportionment for Hawaii, and retaining jurisdiction for such further proceeding as may be appropriate after the 1966 general elections have been held. P. 384 U. S. 98.

238 F.Supp. 468, 240 F.Supp. 724, vacated and remanded.

Page 384 U. S. 75

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