by Lindsey J. Gill

A lot, according to a recently filed lawsuit challenging the Missouri congressional redistricting plan.  Alleging that the districts violate the state’s constitution, the plaintiffs seek to have the Republican-drawn plan thrown out, and replaced with one drawn by the Missouri courts.

Current Missouri districts

After the 2010 census results indicated that the population of Missouri grew only 7%, compared to the national average of 10%, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that Missouri would lose a congressional seat.  With nine representatives currently serving in Congress, Missouri was left with the arduous task of redrawing the congressional districts from nine to eight, inevitably making one incumbent very unhappy.  Per the state’s constitution, this task fell on the General Assembly.  With Republicans heavily outnumbering Democrats in both the state’s House of Representatives and the Senate, there was little question which party would end up on the losing end of the decision.   At the time, Democrats held three of the nine congressional seats, and two of those seats represented parts of St. Louis, Missouri’s largest city.  With a substantial amount of the state’s population growth occurring in the Republican-dominated, suburban counties surrounding the city, namely St. Charles, Warren, and Lincoln County, the population of  St. Louis City and St. Louis County declined and  the area became the inevitable target of the new redistricting plan.

After months of both inter- and intra-party “squabbling,” the General Assembly passed what they coined the “grand compromise” in late April 2011.  The vote was mostly along party lines.  The new plan eliminated the third district, splitting it between the urban first district, the suburban second and third districts and the rural eighth district.  Democrat Russ Carnahan, son of the late Missouri governor Mel Carnahan and a member of one of Missouri’s most well-known political families, would be left without a district.  As a resident of St. Louis, Carnahan would now have to compete against William Lacy Clay, fellow Democrat from the first district, in the 2012 election.  The “grand compromise” also added the three rural counties of Saline, Lafayette, and Ray to the urban Kansas City district of Democrat Emanuel Cleaver.  After urging from the Democratic Party, Missouri governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed the redistricting plan stating that it “does not adequately protect the interests of all Missourians.”  Under a strict deadline of May 13, 2011, the end of the legislative session, Missouri Republicans had to obtain enough votes to override the veto or else the task of redistricting would pass to the courts.  The Senate, with a vote of 27 to 7, had exceeded the necessary two-thirds during the original passage of the plan.  The House was short 13 votes during the original passage, with 9 legislators not voting (6 Republicans and 3 Democrats).

New Missouri districts

About a week short of their deadline, the state legislature managed a narrow override of the governor’s veto, with a House vote of 109-44, and a Senate vote of 28-6. Four Democratic House members were willing to vote with the Republicans, two from the William Lacy Clay’s district and two from Emanuel Cleaver’s district.  The three Democratic Senators who voted for the override were all from Cleaver’s district.

Despite the controversy over the new map, it appeared the issue was settled.  Four month after the override, however, a group of plaintiffs decided to take the issue to court.  On Friday, September 23rd a group of residents from five Missouri counties and the city of St. Louis, backed by the National Democratic Redistricting Trust, filed a lawsuit in Jefferson City alleging that the Republican-controlled state legislature “utilized an overreaching process for wholly partisan purposes” when redrawing the map.  The lawsuit alleges that the new map violates the Missouri constitution’s requirement of compact and contiguous districts.  Gerald Greiman, attorney from St. Louis, filed the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs.  The suit challenges several of the new districts, including complaints that the “new 3rd District encircles St. Louis like a lobster claw,” the 4th District is “shaped like a three-headed toad,” and the 5th District looks “like a dead lizard.”

Ultimately, it will be up to the Missouri courts to decide if there is, in fact, anything wrong with a dead lizard.

Lindsey J. Gill is a second-year law student at William & Mary.


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