Mo. court: Cadidates qualify in residency cases

Associated Press State Wire: Missouri (MO) - Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Author: CHRIS BLANK Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that two state legislative candidates qualify for this year's ballot, resolving uncertainties about how to handle residency requirements for recently redrawn House and Senate districts. 

At issue before the high court were two legal challenges focused on whether Democratic Reps. Jamilah Nasheed and Sylvester Taylor could run in the Aug. 7 primary for separate seats in the Missouri Legislature. Earlier this year, both filed to run in districts that after the redistricting process now include part of their home districts but not their residences. 

Nasheed lives in the 4th Senate District and filed to challenge Sen. Robin Wright-Jones in the 5th Senate District covering part of the city of St. Louis. The 5th District was redrawn this year to take in part of the 4th District, but not the area where Nasheed lives. 

In the second case, Taylor and state Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray each filed to run in the new 75th House District in St. Louis County. That district was redrawn and now includes pieces of both lawmakers' current districts. Gray lives in the new 75th District, but Taylor does not. 

Last week, a state appeals court said it would conclude that Nasheed and Taylor didn't qualify for the ballot but transferred the cases to the Missouri Supreme Court. Previously, a trial judge in St. Louis city ruled Nasheed did not meet the residency requirements, and a judge in St. Louis County concluded the opposite while allowing Taylor to remain on the ballot. 

Although the cases focused directly on the St. Louis-area, questions about the handling of residency qualifications had threatened to cause uncertainty in numerous legislative races. Following the 2010 census, all 163 Missouri House districts were redrawn late last November and the 34 state Senate districts were reconfigured this past March. 

According to one estimate, about two dozen incumbent lawmakers representing districts from the Bootheel to Independence could have faced similar legal challenges over their qualification for the ballot. 

Under the Missouri Constitution, candidates running for the state Legislature must live in their districts for at least one year. However, it makes an exception when new districts are redrawn less than a year before the election. In those instances, Senate candidates qualify if they live in a district from which a portion is taken for the new seat. A similar provision applies to House districts. 

The Supreme Court ruled in a per curium decision, which is not attributed to a particular judge, that the constitution's exception for the residency rules is clear. 

"Had the drafters of the constitution wished to limit eligibility to candidates residing only in those parts of an old district that were absorbed into the new one, they could have crafted narrowing language to that effect," justices ruled. "They did not, and, given the clear and unambiguous language of the clause, the Court need not speculate as to their intent." 

The high court also noted that in past years, Missouri has allowed candidates to run when part of their existing districts were folded into a new seat during redistricting. It noted that interpretation has been adopted in several attorney general's office opinions and in the guidance that the secretary of state's office gives to candidates.