JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri judge on Tuesday struck down a ballot summary prepared by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan for an initiative that would limit the use of eminent domain to take private property for redevelopment.
Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan ruled that Carnahan's summary was "insufficient and unfair" because it suggests the measure would add some protections for private property that already exist in the state constitution.
The ruling marks the second time within a week that Callahan has rejected ballot summaries prepared by the secretary of state's office. Last Friday, he invalidated the summary for an initiative limiting affirmative action programs.
Under Missouri's initiative process, the secretary of state's office is responsible for writing a summary that appears on petition-signature sheets and the ballot.
Supporters, opponents and state attorneys have until next week to decide whether to appeal Callahan's recent decisions. Initiative sponsors are waiting until there is greater legal certainty before gathering signatures to get their measures on the November 2010 ballot.
Previous initiatives limiting the use of eminent domain didn't survive court fights in 2006 and 2008.
The latest campaign by Missouri Citizens for Property Rights would place two eminent domain amendments on the ballot. The combined intent is to prevent a person's home, business or other private property from being condemned for another private development, such as a shopping center.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 upheld the power of local governments to seize property for private development projects that generate tax revenue. The decision drew criticism from private property and civil rights advocates and prompted efforts in many states to tighten the use of eminent domain.
The Missouri Municipal League, which opposes the amendments, raised numerous legal challenges to both but prevailed on only one claim against one of the measures.
Callahan struck down a portion of Carnahan's summary that said the amendment would restrict eminent domain by "requiring that any taking of property be necessary for a public use and that landowners receive just compensation."
The public use and just compensation requirements have been included in Missouri's Constitution since 1820, a year before it became a state, Callahan wrote in his decision. He said Carnahan's summary "will tend to unfairly influence voters" by implying that passage of the amendment would adopt those restrictions.
Carnahan's spokesman Ryan Hobart said the secretary of state's office stands by its summary and is considering an appeal.
Municipal League Executive Director Gary Markenson described the ruling as a partial victory and said the organization also is considering whether to appeal.
But initiative sponsor Ron Calzone suggested appeals "should be considered malicious acts to the voters of Missouri" by attempting to entangle the measures in the courts and keep them off the ballot.
Calzone submitted the ballot proposals to Carnahan's office late last fall.
"Every week delay makes this process more expensive; it decreases the likelihood of our success" in gathering enough signatures, he said.
Sponsors of ballot proposals have until May to turn into signatures to the secretary of state's office. The Municipal League and Carnhan's office both denied that legal appeals would act as roadblocks to the initiatives.
"If there is any appeal from our end, it would be to ensure that voters have a fair and accurate summary to go off of when they are trying to make a decision about this proposal," Hobart said.