JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the new boundaries drawn for state House districts after the 2010 census, finally providing some certainty to candidates heading into the 2012 elections.
The high court issued a one-line ruling affirming the new districts while indicating that a longer opinion explaining the court's rationale would be issued sometime in the future. The ruling came barely three hours before Tuesday's end-of-business deadline for candidates to file for the August primary elections.
Had the court overturned the new state House map, hundreds of candidates who had already filed to run for the 163-district House could have been left in limbo as the redistricting process started from scratch.
The Supreme Court's decision upholds a ruling made last month by a Cole County judge. A lawsuit had claimed that the new maps violated state constitutional requirements that each of the districts have similar populations and be "composed of contiguous territory as compact as may be."
The ideal population for each state House district is 36,742, and the new map has districts that range in population from a low of 35,303 residents in northeast Missouri's 4th District to a high of 38,170 residents in the 63rd District, which covers part of St. Charles and Warren counties. That means the standard deviation is 7.8 percent.
The lawsuit also argued that a special commission of six appellate judges that drew the map violated Missouri's Sunshine Law by not providing notice of meetings and then holding at least three private discussions. The commission contended it was not subject to the Sunshine Law.
The judicial panel gained the responsibility for drawing the map after a bipartisan commission appointed by the governor failed to agree on new House districts.
Some candidates welcomed the Supreme Court's decision with a sigh of relief Tuesday.
"Wonderful," said Assistant House Majority Leader Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane. "It lets everybody go ahead and plan their business and move ahead with the state's business."
But former state Sen. Joan Bray, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the Supreme Court's decision was disappointing.
"We think the system is terribly broken, and we were hoping the Supreme Court would follow through ... and ensure that it gets fixed," said Bray, a Democrat from St. Louis whose 18-year legislative career was ended by term limits in January 2011.
Bray said the redistricting process is plagued by secrecy and resulted in a map that appears to favor Republicans — who already hold a commanding House majority — even though the state is fairly evenly divided among Republicans and Democrats in statewide elections.
"The system we have now appears to pander more to term-limited politicians' desire to get elected one or two more times, and I just don't think that reflects the interests of the people," Bray said.
Missouri's redistricting process has been beset by lawsuits. The state Supreme Court previously overturned the state Senate districts drawn by a judicial panel, causing a new bipartisan commission to be appointed by the governor that recently approved a revised map to be used in the 2012 elections.
The state Supreme Court still has not ruled on a pair of legal challenges to Missouri's congressional districts, which were winnowed from nine districts down to eight because Missouri's population growth failed to keep pace with the nation's during the past decade.