Missouri court throws out redistricting plans

The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday threw out a pair of newly redrawn state Senate district maps and sent the new congressional map back to a judge for review.

With candidate filings for the 2012 elections set to begin Feb. 28, the rulings opened the door to the possibility that final district boundary lines won’t be drawn by then. That would cause confusion and possibly discourage some candidates from running, party leaders said.

“That’s not good for the democratic process,” said Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party.

But officials in Secretary of State Robin Carnahan’s office said if the maps aren’t revised by Feb. 28, the congressional map that lawmakers approved last year would go into effect. State Senate districts approved in 2001 would remain in effect as well.

Officials from both parties said late Tuesday that they were still reviewing the law to determine how the rulings could impact this year’s elections.

In its ruling on the state’s new congressional district map, the judges said questions remain about whether the districts “were drawn as compact as they may be.” One of the districts cited: the new 5th District held by Democrat Emanuel Cleaver.

That district, redrawn as the others were as a result of the latest U.S. census, now runs from the Missouri-Kansas border in Kansas City eastward along Interstate 70 into rural Saline County. Complicating the redistricting process this year was Missouri’s loss of one congressional seat, which reduced the delegation’s size from nine to eight members.

The judges also questioned the shape of the 3rd District in the St. Louis area.

“Districts 3 and 5 are alleged to be particularly suspect, as can be confirmed by any rational and objective consideration of their boundaries,” the judges wrote.

The judges ordered a Cole County judge to conduct a hearing and render a judgment by Feb. 3 “because time is of the essence … it is presumed that governmental entities will fulfill their duties in a timely manner for the 2012 elections.”

In a separate decision Tuesday, the Supreme Court tossed out new state Senate districts drawn by a six-member panel of appellate judges, ruling the judges erred in submitting one map, then withdrawing it and substituting a revised map.

In addition, a map drawn by the panel allowed some Senate districts to improperly cross county lines. Among the districts cited was the 10th District, now held by Kansas City Democrat Jolie Justus, which crossed into both Cass and Clay counties.

Meanwhile, House Democrats were said to be considering their own legal challenge of the new House maps.

Sanders said the court’s rulings could give a big advantage to incumbents, many of whom know they will be seeking re-election, even if they don’t know the precise boundaries of their districts.

But he said many challengers might shy away from the process because they won’t have time to organize campaigns for districts of uncertain shape.

“It’s borderline unbelievable,” Sanders said of the situation. “I feel like the process could deter so many good candidates from filing for office.”