Republicans and Democrats in Missouri Agree: Courts Must Intervene on Redistricting | KCUR 89.3

Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on at least one thing: the courts must intervene in Missouri’s congressional redistricting impasse.

The open questions, however, are what kind of judge can actually act – and is it too late to do anything this year?

Two lawsuits have been filed in recent weeks by attorneys for Democratic and Republican interests over the Missouri General Assembly’s failure to redraw the state’s eight congressional districts. Their argument to the Cole County judges is basically the same: that the Missouri Constitution requires districts to be roughly equal in population and that using the 2011 lines to conduct elections would be a violation of that document.

“If the state cannot or will not pass a new plan and map from Congress, then this court should pass its own plan and map from Congress and extend or create a new filing period for those districts to to ensure that candidates can file in advance in the appropriate congressional districts. of the August 2, 2022 primary election,” said a lawsuit filed on behalf of three Missouri Republican Party officials late last month.

Another lawsuit involving prominent Democratic attorney Marc Elias the company also supports “The significant population changes that have occurred since the 2010 census and the release of the 2020 census results, Missouri’s congressional districts – which were drawn based on 2010 census data – are now unconstitutionally wrong distributed.”

“Any future use of Missouri’s current congressional district plan would violate plaintiffs’ constitutional right to cast an equal and undiluted vote,” states a lawsuit that was propelled by several Missouri voters and is being handled in Missouri by the lawyer Chuck Hatfield.

Even though both suits make valid points, the question remains open as to what state judges can do from a practical standpoint.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said the Missouri Constitution does not give state judges the power to redraw districts – adding that the legislature is clearly responsible for drawing the lines.

“Missouri’s Constitution specifically and solely gives the legislature the power to draw the map. The Missouri Supreme Court does not have that authority,” Ashcroft said. “We are a nation of laws. They don’t just decide that we’re going to do something that we don’t have the power to do. I can’t decide that I’m suddenly going to be able to stop people like I’m a highway patrolman. I’m not.”

In a statement, Marc Ellinger and Lowell Pearson, two attorneys who are handling the lawsuit on behalf of Republican Party officials in the state, said, “Missouri’s Constitution provides for the state to redistribute districts. The lawsuit asks the court to order the state to do so and to reopen the filing for two weeks when the state does. Any discussion of other issues is premature at this stage.

Hatfield did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the lawsuit he is involved in.

Ashcroft and Travis Crum, a professor at the University of Washington School of Law, said there is precedent for federal courts to get involved in redistricting lawsuits. Crum said the typical course of action is for a panel of three judges to end up drawing new lines.

And that setup, Crum said, will impact how the final product looks. The court, for example, is unlikely to pass what’s called a 7-1 map that makes Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s 5th District in Kansas City unwinnable for Democrats.

“If you have three judges in the room, they’ll have to agree among themselves that this map is constitutional,” Crum said. “And I think that kind of pushes the process of adopting a ‘least change map’ now.”

Currently, Missouri has five strongly Republican districts, two strongly Democratic districts, and one district in suburban St. Louis, represented by U.S. Representative Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, which is considered a swing district.

Ashcroft, however, said federal judges may not intervene in Missouri this year, based on a legal principle that the judiciary does not like to get involved in election-related matters so close to the day. of the ballot. He pointed to an Alabama redistricting decision that used that legal precedent to delay reshuffling congressional districts.

“I could see the court saying, ‘Yeah, you’re supposed to do this. And next year you have to do it,” Ashcroft said. “And then we’ll go ahead and do that later. But we really don’t want to confuse people to say we’re getting closer. [The state’s filing period] already finished. We are approaching the time when our electoral authorities will have to send their ballots to be printed, and we need to know who is supposed to receive which ballots. And we’re running out of time.

Crum, however, noted that the Alabama case featured a lower court ordering a re-draw on Voting Rights Act issues — as opposed to Missouri’s legislative paralysis over drafting. new lines from Congress. “Missouri failed to pass a congressional redistricting map, and you can’t use the 2010 map because it’s grossly malformed at this point,” he said.

The legislature can forestall any possibility of the judiciary getting involved in crafting a Congressional map by reaching some sort of compromise. Missouri’s legislative session is expected to continue through mid-May.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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