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Lawsuit challenges district map

Lawsuit challenges district map

September 24th, 2011 in News

A lawsuit filed Friday and financed by the National Democratic Redistricting Trust alleges that the state's new congressional districts were drawn to benefit Republicans in violation of federal requirements that they be shaped in a compact manner and protect the rights of all voters.

The lawsuit contends that Missouri's new congressional districts are not compact and contiguous, deny some residents equal rights and opportunities and reflect the use of government power to benefit a few instead of looking out for the general welfare. The suit seeks an injunction to block state officials from using the new congressional map for any election and asks the court to draw new districts for the 2012 through 2020 congressional elections.

It was filed in the Capitol's home of Cole County. The half-dozen plaintiffs live throughout Missouri and include a former Democratic state senator from St. Louis County and a former Democratic Boone County commissioner. Attorney Gerry Greiman said the suit raises issues that are broader than Democratic interests and that it comes months after the map was approved because much was involved in putting the effort together.

"The machinations of drawing the map were a highly partisan process," Greiman said. "It had the purpose and effect of not serving the interests of Missourians as a whole but serving the interests of a particular party."

State lawmakers this year drew new congressional districts that merged the existing nine districts into eight districts. Missouri lost a U.S. House seat when the 2010 census showed the state's 7 percent population growth rate failed to keep pace with the rest of the nation. The new map also had to account for population shifts within the state, including an exodus from St. Louis to its outer suburbs.

To enact the new map, Missouri's Republican-led Legislature overrode the veto of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. Four House Democrats and three Senate Democrats supported the veto override.

Republican leaders have defended the new congressional map and said its districts are compact and contiguous.

Sen. Scott Rupp, the chairman of the Missouri Senate committee responsible for redistricting, said Friday that a legal challenge was not a surprise and that he is confident the new districts are fair.

"People can make any allegation they want. We had bipartisan support on both the passage of the bill and the override," said Rupp, R-Wentzville. "It's kind of hard to say it was a partisan-driven agenda when you had bipartisan support."

The new congressional map merges two Democratic congressmen into the same St. Louis district and divvies up the district currently held by Democrat. Russ Carnahan into neighboring districts.

The Kansas City-area 5th District of Democrat Emanuel Cleaver is extended farther east to pick up several rural counties while a swath of Jackson County was carved out and added to the district of Republican Sam Graves, whose 6th District was spread across the northern half of the state. The west-central 4th District held by Republican Vicky Hartzler loses Cole County, which has Jefferson City, and picks up Boone County, which includes Columbia. Southwestern Missouri was changed the least.

The lawsuit objects to how districts were drawn in several areas.

It contends that the St. Louis-region was left underrepresented and divided and that nearby Jefferson County wrongly was split among three separate congressional districts. The suit also asserted that the new 3rd Congressional District that extends from the Lake of the Ozarks toward St. Louis has unnatural "lobster claws" extending east around St. Louis.

The suit argues that central Missouri should not have been divided among districts because the area has common interests. It labeled the west-central 4th District as appearing to be shaped like a "three-headed toad" with a northeastern border that mimics the shape of Texas.

Critics also balked at a "teardrop" shaped chunk from Jackson County that was added to the 6th District. The suit said traveling from the northwestern portion of the 5th District east to its new largely rural new counties would require a particularly circuitous route.