Court to hear challenge to new Missouri Senate districts

Wednesday, January 4, 2012 | 7:56 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to consider a legal challenge over newly drawn districts for the 34-member state Senate, scheduling oral arguments for next week.

A lawyer from Columbia asked the state high court to strike down the new map Tuesday, arguing that some districts in the redistricting plan are unconstitutional. New boundaries were drawn for the Missouri Senate by a panel of six appellate judges to reflect population changes from the 2010 census.

Those new districts have faced criticism for a variety of reasons. The Appellate Apportionment Commission filed its original map Nov. 30, but submitted a revised map Dec. 9 after concerns were raised that some counties were wrongly split into multiple Senate districts. The Missouri Constitution says Senate district lines shall not cross a county except when necessary to add people to a nearby district because the neighboring county has too many people to fit into a single Senate district.

Attorney David Brown said the redistricting commission was not authorized to submit its second map. He also argues both redistricting proposals wrongly cut up counties and that the second map unnecessarily would deprive voters in one district of Senate representation until 2015.

The Missouri Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments in the case for Jan. 12 and gave the parties until 4 p.m. Tuesday to submit written legal arguments. The state high court already was scheduled to consider legal challenges to new congressional districts that condensed Missouri's nine districts into eight. The state legislature drew the new congressional districts and enacted them after overriding a veto by Gov. Jay Nixon.

The Missouri attorney general's office, which is responsible for defending the state against lawsuits, had no immediate comment Wednesday about the challenge to the Senate districts.

Typically, Missouri legal challenges start in a circuit court. But Brown asked the state high court to take the case directly because candidate filing for this year's elections runs from Feb. 28 through March 27. He said that if the new Senate maps are invalidated, the districts used before the 2010 census would remain valid and a new redistricting commission could be appointed to draw a new Senate map.

Brown filed the challenge on behalf of Molly Teichman, who lives in Lafayette County and has a radio show.

The court challenge contends the first Senate map submitted by the judicial redistricting panel has problems with how Jackson, Greene and St. Louis counties are carved up. It says the second map has similar problems for St. Louis County. In addition, it contends voters in the 8th District, which covers eastern Jackson County and western Lafayette County, would have no senator to represent them until after the 2014 election. Meanwhile, the neighboring 10th District would have two senators during that time.

Besides the shape of the districts, the judicial panel also has been criticized for deliberating and developing the maps behind closed doors after accepting public testimony for one day in October. Brown's legal challenge does not reference that, but he said in an interview Wednesday that constitutional problems could have been identified earlier if public meetings were held.

"It's really tragic that they chose to do this in secret and not have the benefit of public input," he said.

State legislative districts are redrawn each decade after the census. Missouri's population grew by about 7 percent, but the growth was not equally distributed. The southwestern corner of the state and the outer St. Louis suburbs grew, while St. Louis County and St. Louis city each lost population since 2000.

The panel of six appeals court judges was responsible for drawing the new districts for the 34-member Senate because a state redistricting commission with an equal number of Republicans and Democrats deadlocked this summer. The panel of judges also drew new districts for the 163-member House, but those boundaries have not faced a similar constitutional challenge.


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