Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What Does the State Supreme Court Decision Mean For Carnahan?

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled today that the Missouri House would have to start from scratch on their state senate redistricting and that a lower court would have to revisit a previous decision to leave the new U.S. House districts intact. It's pretty chaotic since the election cycle is starting up and filing deadlines are approaching, but in general it seems like this might be good, though not perfect, news for Representative Russ Carnahan.

Most people had previously assumed that Rep. Carnahan would be stuck with bad pair of options under the current map, passed by a veto proof majority when three Missouri House Democrats sold their souls to Republicans. Carnahan could either run in Congressman Lacy Clay's safe Democratic district, thus setting up a potentially bitter primary fight, or he could run in the new 2nd District which leans Republican. This dilemma has been the subject of previous discussion on this blog.

However, this court decision potentially changes the dynamics of Carnahan's choice. Though many politicos suggested that the judge might rule that a strange "teardrop" in the Kansas City area would need to be changed but not mess with Carnahan's district, the decision in fact cites the new 3rd District (which contains some previous Carnahan territory) as being problematic in addition to the 5th District in the Kansas City area. Here's the language from the summary of the ruling:
The applicable standard of review for a court in reviewing an article III, section 45 claim is the language of the constitution itself: whether the General Assembly divided Missouri into districts of “contiguous territory as compact and as nearly equal in population as may be. As long as the districts comply with these constitutional requirements, the circuit court shall respect the political determinations of the General Assembly and allow for minimal and practical deviations required to preserve the integrity of the existing lines of our various political subdivisions. Yet the duty to draw district lines of a contiguous territory as compact and as nearly equal in population as may be is one that is mandatory and objective, not subjective.

Here, Plaintiffs have alleged that various districts, and the Map as a whole, violate the compactness requirement of article III, section 45. Districts 3 and 5 are alleged to be particularly suspect, as can be confirmed by any rational and objective consideration of their boundaries. However, it is a question of fact, yet to be tried, whether those districts are “as compact and nearly equal in population as may be.” Mo. Const. art. III, sec. 45 (emphasis added).
I'm not a lawyer, but this language doesn't seem particularly strong to me. So it seems that while this makes it likely that the boundaries of the 3rd district will change (which will change the dynamics of Carnahan's decision, for better or worse), it doesn't make it a foregone conclusion.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court did rule against the claims that the new maps should be changed because they unfairly stacked the deck against Democrats. Now, they probably did stack the deck against Democrats, but unfortunately (and undemocratically if you ask me) this in itself isn't something the courts can legally take action on. From the Beacon's analysis:
But the Supreme Court said that Green was correct in dismissing some arguments -- such as the assertion that the new 3rd was crafted to curb the congressional influence of the St. Louis area and that it unfairly targeted Democrats. The critics contended that the new map leaves the statewide congressional delegation skewed improperly toward Republicans by protecting the six GOP incumbents.

The court stated in its opinion that the U.S. Supreme Court's "inability to state a clear standard" regarding gerrymandering has made it difficult for the state Supreme Court to make a ruling on that argument.

So there's nothing forcing the lower courts to make the districts more friendly to Carnahan. On the other hand, the Supreme Court seemed to think that the 3rd and the 5th districts would need to be redrawn. Given that the last boundary drawings were done by a hyper-partisan crowd doing whatever they could to maximizing Republican chances, any possible changes will most likely result in a somewhat better map for Carnahan. I already think he should run in the 2nd against Ann Wagner or Ed Martin, but if that district shifts a little more Democrat then the decision hopefully becomes a lot easier.

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