William S. Richardson served as the Chief Justice of the Hawaiʻi State Supreme Court from 1966 to 1982. He later served as a trustee of what is now Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate. Prior to his service as the top jurist in Hawai‘i, Chief Justice Richardson was Lieutenant Governor under John A. Burns. Before that, he was in the private practice of law, was an advocate for statehood, and served as chairman of the Hawai‘i Democratic Party from 1956 to 1962.
Of native Hawaiian, Chinese and Caucasian ancestry, Chief Justice Richardson termed himself as "just a local boy from Hawai‘i." He graduated from Roosevelt High School and the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. He earned his law degree from the University of Cincinnati. At the outset of World War II, he volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army and saw combat as a platoon leader with the 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment. He was later inducted into the Infantry Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame.
The Richardson Court helped expand native Hawaiian rights and gave the public more access to beaches. The Court applied ancient Hawaiian concepts - including the idea that certain resources, such as water, could not be privately owned - to ensure public ownership of resources. It awarded new land created by lava flows to the state, instead of to nearby property owners. It broadened the rights of citizens to challenge important environmental and land development decisions. The Richardson Court's new-yet-old way of thinking sometimes drew criticism from government and the legal profession but has become recognized as an enlightened approach for Hawaiʻi.
Before his retirement from the bar, Chief Justice Richardson was memorialized with the naming of the law school in his honor. The William S. Richardson School of Law is the state's only law school and is considered by many to be his crowning achievement, having fought for its establishment for decades.
Chief Justice William S. Richardson passed away peacefully on June 21, 2010.