Federal suit challenges proposed Mo. Senate map

A federal lawsuit claims Missouri’s newly proposed Senate districts should be struck down because they give greater weight to urban voters at the expense of rural residents.

The lawsuit filed Friday by a pair of law firms whose attorneys include former Missouri House Speaker and U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway, a Republican, asserts Senate districts endorsed last month by a bipartisan state redistricting commission violate equal protection rights and state equal population requirements.

It asks for a judge to strike down the districts and instead order the use of a Senate map crafted by a state judicial panel but rejected earlier this year by the Missouri Supreme Court.

The suit is just the most recent legal challenge in a chaotic Missouri redistricting case. The state’s high court also is considering challenges to new districts for the U.S. House and the 163-member Missouri House. There has been just one week since the beginning of the year without at least one new redistricting lawsuit, court hearing or redistricting commission meeting.

Districts are being redrawn based upon population changes from the 2010 census. A bipartisan commission approved the state Senate map 8-2 and was expected to meet again for a final vote following a 15-day public comment period.

The redistricting commission’s map creates an east-central Senate district and places Republican Sens. Jane Cunningham and Brian Nieves each into the 26th District covering Franklin County and part of St. Louis County. The map makes the new seat Senate District 10 and renumbers a little changed seat in Jackson County as District 7.

Numbering of state Senate districts is important because odd numbered districts appear on the ballot this year and even numbered districts will next stand for election in 2014. The number shifts means Democrats could end up with an extra Kansas City senator for two years until the newly created 10th District appears on the ballot in 2014.

The lawsuit complains the proposed map leaves several rural counties that tend to support Republicans with the largest populations while the most sparsely populated Senate districts are in urban areas of Jackson County that tend to support Democrats. It also objects to how districts would be numbered.

“The intent and effect of Commission’s bizarre rearrangement of district numbers and deliberate concentration of odd-numbered, under-populated districts in urban Kansas City is to invidiously increase the representation of urban regions and decrease the representation of rural regions in the General Assembly,” the lawsuit said.

Under the existing Senate districts, the 7th District is represented by Cunningham in St. Louis County. Cunningham would need to win re-election this year to remain in the Senate, and she has sharply criticized the redistricting proposal.

The lawmaker is not among the more than half-dozen plaintiffs who filed the federal lawsuit.

Missouri candidate filing for this year’s elections started last week and continues through March 27.

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