Missouri Supreme Court sides with redistricting challengers

Tuesday, January 17, 2012 | 3:56 p.m. CST; updated 6:07 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 26, 2012

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Supreme Court struck down new state Senate districts on Tuesday and ordered further legal review of new congressional boundaries, throwing uncertainty into Missouri's 2012 election season just weeks before candidates are to begin filing for office.

The state's high court ordered a trial judge to conduct a hearing and make a judgment by Feb. 3 on claims that the new congressional districts violate the state constitution because they were not drawn compactly.

The seven-member court also invalidated the new state Senate districts, ruling that a plan submitted by a special panel of judges violated the state constitution by dividing Jackson and Greene counties into too many separate districts. The court also ruled that the judicial panel exceeded its authority when it attempted to replace its original map with a new one that included fewer county divisions.

The result of Tuesday's ruling is that the Senate redistricting process must start all over, with Gov. Jay Nixon appointing a new bipartisan citizens' commission to attempt to draw boundaries. If that group fails, the responsibility would again fall to a panel of judges.

It was not immediately clear whether the Senate redistricting process could be completed in time for the Feb. 28 start of candidacy filing. It's also unclear whether the congressional boundaries could be redrawn — if that ultimately is required — before candidacy filing begins.

Congressional districts are redrawn each decade based on the most recent census. Missouri is dropping from nine congressional districts to eight because its population growth since 2000 did not keep pace with other states. The Republican-controlled legislature enacted its congressional redistricting map last year after overriding the veto of Nixon.

The state Supreme Court said Tuesday that a trial judge particularly needs to determine whether the new 5th Congressional District in the Kansas City area and the new 3rd Congressional District, which stretches from central Missouri to suburban St. Louis, are compact enough to meet constitutional requirements.

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