COLUMBIA — A Missouri Supreme Court decision Tuesday ensures that Democratic Rep. Chris Kelly and former state Sen. Dennis Smith will remain eligible to run in the August primary. Both filed for candidacy in districts where they do not reside.
On Tuesday, the state high court unanimously reversed two decisions by the Eastern District Court of Appeals. This reversal permits Kelly, Smith and any other candidates to run in newly drawn districts during redistricting years, even if they do not currently live in them.
Under this ruling, candidates running for statewide legislative seats no longer have to worry about challenges to their residency caused by the redistricting.
District lines are redrawn every 10 years. Questions were raised about residency requirements by two St. Louis-area cases.
These cases could have made candidates across the state ineligible to run.
Before the Court handed down its ruling, both Smith and Kelly said they thought the state Supreme Court would side with the St. Louis candidates.
Smith also said the case was unprecedented and caused more confusion in the election.
"It seems tragic that the legislative and judicial process has been such a mess throughout this redistricting process," Smith said. "I think people are very frustrated with all of the uncertainty that has come out of this election — there’s enough uncertainty as it is."
Both Smith and Kelly said they were pleased with Tuesday's decision.
"This is what I thought would happen," Kelly said. "The court followed the plain language of the constitution."
The Missouri Constitution states that candidates for state Senate seats must be residents of the district they wish to represent for one year if the district has been established for that period of time.
If the district has been formed for less than a year, the candidates must reside in "the district or districts" from which newly apportioned districts have been taken. The constitution gives a broader qualification to House candidates, stating that they must have lived in "the county or district" from which the new districts were formed.
In both rulings the state high court said the language in the constitution had a "plain and ordinary meaning."
"Had the drafters of the constitution wished to limit eligibility to candidates residing only in those parts of an old district that were absorbed into the new one, they could have crafted narrowing language to that effect," the rulings stated, adding that the court did not need to speculate on the intent of the drafters of the constitution.
The appeals court issued opinions last week saying that Reps. Jamilah Nasheed and Sylvester Taylor should not appear on the Aug. 7 primary ballot because they did not meet residency requirements. But the court declined to issue a ruling on the cases, sending them directly to the state Supreme Court.
Nasheed is running against incumbent Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis City, who filed the original lawsuit against Nasheed. Taylor is running against incumbent Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray, who filed the lawsuit against Taylor. At the circuit court level, the court ruled in favor of Wright-Jones but against Gray in a separate case.
Both Nasheed and Taylor are now permitted to run in the districts in which they originally filed.
While Kelly lives in the 50th District, he filed to run in the 45th; and Smith lives in the 45th but filed to run in the 44th. *Democrat Ken Jacob also filed to run in the 44th District, and also lives in the district.
Supervising editor is Ted Hart.