Judge signals he will dismiss challenge to congressional districts | St. Louis Public Radio

Judge signals he will dismiss challenge to congressional districts

Dec 8, 2011

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 8, 2011 - Update -- Two suits challenging Missouri's redrawn congressional districts apparently have failed to win the day in court. The suits were merged by the court, meaning Republican political activists in Kansas City were working with their Democratic counterparts in St. Louis.  

Thursday, Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Richard Green asked the lawyers for map backers to draw up an order of dismissal, implying that he will sign.

St. Louis lawyer Gerry Greiman, who represents the plaintiffs in the original suit, said he will immediately appeal to the Supreme Court asking that a trial be ordered. Greiman said he was disappointed, but not surprised. Both suits had contended that the Missouri General Assembly drew a new map (pictured below) that waters down the political influence of Kansas City and St. Louis.

Lawyer Jim Layton with the Missouri attorney general's office did not say how soon the order will be written up, but Greiman expects it within a day.- End updated material

The initial broader suit, filed in September, focuses primarily on the changes in the St. Louis area that critics contend will cut the region's congressional representation.

The chief argument centers on the new map's elimination of the largely urban 3rd District now represented by U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, because the state loses one of its now-nine congressional districts.

(The current 9th District, which is largely rural, was redrawn to take in some St. Louis suburbs and will be renamed as the 3rd.)

That suit also cites other newly drawn districts around the state. It mentions the Kansas City area's 5th District, but primarily to back up its contention that legislators improperly gerrymandered the existing urban districts by cutting them up and parceling out portions into many parts of districts that otherwise are primarily rural.

The Kansas City suit, filed just last month, zeroes in on the 5th District, now represented by U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-St. Louis, and the somewhat neighboring 6th District, held by U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio.

According to that suit, legislators improperly sought to protect eight incumbent members of Congress, including all six current Republicans, by ignoring what was best for voters.

"In the Fifth and Sixth Districts, the Map achieves its purposes through extreme instances of bipartisan gerrymandering, among other constitutional deficiencies," the suit says.

"The most egregious aspect of the Map is the newly drawn Fifth District, which splits Jackson County among two districts and combines the highly urban portion of Jackson County with three primarily rural counties -- Ray, Lafayette and Saline Counties -- that extend 100 miles to the east," the suit continues.

"Moreover, the Map carves out a teardrop-shaped area of Jackson County and places it in the Sixth District, which otherwise is north of the Missouri River. The Fifth District has not previously crossed the Missouri River.... The net effect of the new Fifth District is to dilute the urban areas of Jackson County with the unrelated rural areas of Lafayette, Ray, and Saline counties..."

The suit also complains that the city of Lee's Summit, which has almost 92,000 residents, is split between the two districts.

The new map was crafted last spring by the Republican-dominated General Assembly, which openly sought to protect the state's six Republican members in Congress with the new map. Legislators overrode Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, who vetoed the map.

Four African-American House Democrats, from St. Louis and Kansas City, sided with Republicans for the override. The Democrats said they were doing so at the behest of their congressmen, Cleaver and William Lacy Clay of St. Louis.

The St. Louis area Republicans most involved in crafting the new map -- Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, and Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country -- have argued in their own court filings that it's the job of the General Assembly, not the judges, to redraw the congressional maps, and that the new map is fair.

Democratic activists aren't sure what to expect of the judge, Green, who is elected and campaigned as a conservative.

St. Louis lawyer Gerry Greiman, who represents the plaintiffs in the original suit, declined to discuss the judge. But speaking in general, Greiman said that all sides expect that the suit, regardless of how Green rules, will end up before the Missouri Supreme Court.

"All parties recognize the importance'' of the issue, the lawyer said.

Green already has signaled that he agrees with all parties that the redistricting dispute needs to be resolved before candidate filing begins in Missouri in late February. The trial is expected to be held within weeks -- and possibly before the end of this month.

Tuesday's hearing concerns an effort by map defenders to dismiss the case. Green indicated he would rule swiftly.

Eddie Greim, a Kansas City lawyer presenting Rupp and Diehl, told the judge that accusations of partisan gerrymandering may well be true -- but he cited previous cases elsewhere where judges have ruled that partisan considerations are allowed, when drawing a congressional boundary map.

"We know (gerrymandering) is not unconstitutional," Greim said. The only debate is "was there too much." In the United States, he said, elections are "winner take all." So it was fair for Republicans controlling the General Assembly to draw pro-Republican districts.

Greiman, speaking on behalf of map opponents, argued that there had, indeed, been too much politics involved in drawing up the map. He contended that it was ridiculous to see a map where the new 3rd District extends from suburban St. Louis to more than half way to Kansas City.

He said the map also violates Missouri Constitution's mandate for compactness in drawing districts and ignores the rights of many voters.