Missouri Supreme Court says Nasheed, Taylor can stay on ballot
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 19, 2012 - The Missouri Supreme Court reversed a circuit court decision that kicked state Rep. Jamilah Nasheed off the ballot in the 5th senatorial district race. The St. Louis Democrat is now back in the race against incumbent state Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis.
The court also affirmed a lower court decision that allowed state Rep. Sylvester Taylor, D-Black Jack, to run against state Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Black Jack. That case could have affected scores of state House candidates running in newly drawn districts in which they didn’t live.
In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that Nasheed, D-St. Louis, is eligible to run in the Democratic primary for the 5th district because a provision in the Missouri Constitution “does not require Nasheed to live within the boundaries of the reapportioned Senate district she seeks to represent.” Previously a St. Louis judge had ruled that Nasheed did not qualify to run in the district that encompasses part of the city.
Nasheed was one of two Democratic candidates to file against Wright-Jones. Subsequently, Wright-Jones sued, arguing that Nasheed can’t run in the 5th because her residence is in the 4th district.
Nasheed disagreed. Because part of the 4th district was shifted to the 5th district, Nasheed pointed to a specific provision in the Missouri Constitution: A senator "shall have been a qualified voter of the state for three years and a resident of the district which he is chosen to represent for one year, if such district shall have been so long established, and if not, then of the district or districts from which the same shall have been taken."
In her decision, St. Louis Circuit Judge Joan Moriarty wrote that she does not believe the phrase “then of the district or districts from which the same shall have been taken” would allow a candidate who resides in the 4th district to run in the 5th district. If that were the case, the judge wrote, it would “lead to absurd results where a candidate could run in any number of districts, which are no way associated with his or her residence, and would promote electoral district shopping.” An appeals court affirmed that ruling but sent the case to the Supreme Court for a final decision.
But the majority in the Supreme Court decision wrote that the the part of the Missouri Constitution in question “must be construed to determine whether Nasheed is ‘a resident of the district or districts from which the same shall have been taken.’
“Simply put, is she a resident of any district from which the new 5th district was created? Yes. Nasheed currently resides in the old 4th district, which is one of the districts from which the new 5th district was created,” the court wrote. “As such, she satisfies the constitutional residency requirement for the 2012 election.”
Nasheed’s temporary exclusion from the ballot threw the 5th district race into a state of flux. She had raised the most money of any other candidates, including state Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford, D-St. Louis. Wright-Jones had fallen behind both Nasheed and Oxford in fundraising.
In a telephone interview, Nasheed said she was “extremely elated” by the decision. She noted that she didn’t stop campaigning even when she was taken off the ballot.
"I've campaigned all along," Nasheed said. "We've door-knocked. We've been able to reach people by phone. We put out yard signs. I've been campaigning all along the way. I never gave up hope that the courts would get it right."
Taylor can face Gray
In a separate case with implications for state House races, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that Taylor could stay on the ballot.
Gray argued that Taylor shouldn’t be allowed to run in the new 75th district because his residence is located in the 67th district. St. Louis County Judge Steven Goldman denied Gray’s claim.
Taylor noted that the Missouri Constitution has different rules on who can run for a House seat after redistricting, pointing to a constitutional provision that states that a candidate “shall have been a qualified voter for two years and a resident of the county or district which he is chosen to represent for one year.”
The Eastern District Court of Appeals sided with Gray, but in a similar manner to the Nasheed it case sent the case to the Supreme Court for a final decision. In ruling for Taylor, the court in a unanimous decision used similar language as in the Nasheed decision.
The constitutional provision "must be construed to determine whether Taylor is ‘a resident of the county or district from which the same shall have been taken,’” the decision states. “Simply put, is he a resident of the county or district from which the new 75th district was created? Yes. Taylor currently resides in a district from which the new 75th district was created. As such, he satisfies the constitutional residency requirement for the 2012 election.”
An adverse decision would have created uncertainty for candidates who filed to run in districts where they didn't live.
(Start of update) Elbert Walton, Jr. – an attorney who represented Wright-Jones and Gray – said in a telephone interview the court “failed to have the courage to decide that all those incumbent legislators who have filed in districts where they don’t live did not qualify to run for office.” Gray is Walton’s daughter.
“And therefore they made what I consider to be a politically expedient decision to say that they’ve been running where they don’t live for the past 30 years and so they should still be able to run where they don’t live,” Walton said. “They didn’t do like the judge in the court of appeals, who went through and thoroughly analyzed the legal precedents.”
Walton was alluding to Missouri Eastern Court of Appeals Judge Kurt Odenwald, who wrote that both Nasheed and Taylor should be kept off the ballot. He noted that those opinions were far more detailed than the Supreme Court decisions that were handed down today.
Walton questioned whether the framers of the state’s constitution intended for a person who doesn’t reside in a particular district to run there.
“How can the Supreme Court of the state interpret the constitution in such a way to say that a person who’s never, ever lived in this district in the past and not currently [living in a district] is qualified to run in that district?” Walton said. “That’s just unfathomable to me.” (End of update)