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Missouri Supreme Court orders review of new congressional, state Senate maps

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 17, 2012 - The Missouri Supreme Court has just offered a ray of hope to U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, by ordering a lower court to consider whether the Missouri General Assembly violated the state constitution with the new boundaries for the state's 3rd and 5th congressional districts.

The state's highest court overruled last month's decision by Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel R. Green to dismiss all the legal challenges filed by a group of Democrats in St. Louis and some Republicans in Kansas City.

While agreeing with some of Green's dismissals, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Green should have considered the dissidents' contention that the state constitution's mandate regarding "compactness'' was violated with the new boundaries for the 3rd, which takes in part of the St. Louis area and has been represented by Carnahan, and the 5th District, which is in the Kansas City area and currently represented by U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City.

The high court did not stipulate how Green should rule -- but it gives him only a few weeks to do it. The Supreme Court ordered that Green issue a ruling by Feb. 3 to give the General Assembly time to redraw the map. Candidate filing is slated to begin on Feb. 28.

(Click here to read the entire ruling.)

The Supreme Court's action comes just days after it held a hearing on the two combined suits. The decision makes clear that high court was not going to take over the task of drawing boundary lines and was leaving that job to state legislators, as required by the state constitution.

Although the Supreme Court's decision dealt only with the 3rd and the 5th, the fallout will likely affect the other six state congressional districts as well. Missouri loses one of its current nine congressional districts as of this fall's elections.

Carnahan currently represents the 3rd District. But the new map, in effect, does away with his district and splits it into four other congressional districts. Missouri loses a district as of 2013 because the state's population growth since 2000 had been less than in some other states.

The court's ruling deals with the new 3rd, which takes in part of Carnahan's current turf but has large portions of the current 9th District, which is represented by U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, and is west of Jefferson City.

The Supreme Court appeared at least to raise to questions about the shape and scope of the new 3rd, which critics have asserted is shaped like lobster claws and fails the "compactness'' requirement in the state constitution.

As for the 5th, the court noted the teardrop-shaped piece legislators carved out of the district and added to the new largely rural 6th District.

Carnahan said in an interview late Monday, before the Supreme Court's decision was issued, that he believed the "compactness" argument was likely his best shot at getting the 3rd District's new boundaries changed.

But the Supreme Court said that Green was correct in dismissing some arguments -- such as the assertion that the new 3rd was crafted to curb the congressional influence of the St. Louis area and that it unfairly targeted Democrats. The critics contended that the new map leaves the statewide congressional delegation skewed improperly toward Republicans by protecting the six GOP incumbents.

The court stated in its opinion that the U.S. Supreme Court's "inability to state a clear standard" regarding gerrymandering has made it difficult for the state Supreme Court to make a ruling on that argument.

The state Supreme Court's decision was unanimous, but three of the judges -- Chief Justice Richard Teitelman, George Draper III, and Mary Russell -- had recused themselves and were replaced by appellate judges for the congressional redistricting case.

Gerald Greiman, the chief lawyer representing the congressional map's critics, said his camp is "delighted'' with the court's decision. But Greiman also noted that the matter could end up before the state Supreme Court again, if Green's subsequent ruling on the "compactness" argument is challenged.

Greiman said it was significant that the Supreme Court stipulated that all eight new congressional districts must meet the "compactness" requirement, countering some legislators who had asserted that the court would likely approve the new map even if one or two districts might not meet the compactness standard.

If the lower-court judge, Green, does order the General Assembly to draw up a new map, it then would have to go before Gov. Jay Nixon again for approval or a veto. That process, too, could set up another wave of court fights.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, which defended the new map, said its lawyers were "reviewing the court's decisions'' and had no other comment.

Process Restarted for the State Senate Map

Meanwhile the Supreme Court threw out a state Senate map drawn by a panel of appellate judges. They also ordered that the process of drawing state Senate districts start anew, roughly a month before filing begins.

In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that the appellate commission that formulated the new Senate districts had no authority to submit a revised map. The commission had submitted a revised map a few days after issuing an initial one. The court also said that the initial map violated the state's constitution by splitting some counties improperly.

The judicial commission had drawn up the map after a bipartisan panel set up by Gov. Jay Nixon had failed to do so.

The Supreme Court's rulingspecifically states that the map-drawing job goes back to the bipartisan commission, but it orders Nixon to set up a new one.

"The matter must go back to the governor, who is directed by [the Missouri Constitution] to notify the state political committees of a need to redraw the map and begin the process anew," the opinion stated.

(Click here for the court's full ruling.)

The Supreme Court's ruling does not affect the state House, where a judicial panel also drew up new boundaries after a separate bipartisan commission failed to reach an agreement.

UPDATE: Nixon is acting swiftly to get the new map-drawing process underway. He has sent out a letter late today to both state political parties, asking for a list of proposed nominees for a new bipartisan commission that will be charged with drawing a new map.

The governor will select five people from each party's list of 10 proposed nominees. Nixon asked in the letter that party officials send in their lists quickly "so that the commission can complete its work in a timeframe that provides certainty to candidates filing for the 2012 senatorial elections."

Freelance writer Jason Rosenbaum contributed information to this story.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.