By CHRIS BLANK
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A state trial judge on Tuesday rejected a legal challenge over newly drawn Missouri House districts, but the case is likely to be appealed as candidates prepare to start launching their campaigns in two weeks.
The state House redistricting lawsuit, filed by a bipartisan group that includes two former lawmakers, contends the new map for the 163-district Missouri House violates requirements that districts have similar populations and be contiguous and compact. In addition, the suit argues that a special commission of six appellate judges responsible for drawing the map violated Missouri's open meetings law by not providing notice of meetings and then holding at least three private discussions.
Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce rejected all the claims in her ruling Tuesday. Joyce concluded the redistricting panel is not required to follow open meeting requirements because it is a judicial entity and was not acting in an administrative capacity. Joyce also said the new districts are contiguous and that the plaintiffs failed to prove that requirements for the districts' populations or compactness were violated.
Joyce said population differences among the districts are "incidental and not the product of a "gerrymander' or other attempt to benefit or disadvantage a particular group." She added that the new state House districts "do not unduly stretch across the state, in an apparent effort to gerrymander for partisan gain or any other questionable purpose."
Plaintiffs were planning to appeal.
Former Republican state lawmaker Bob Johnson, who is among those challenging the state House districts, said the ruling was disappointing but that he was pleased Joyce moved quickly to reach a decision. He still thinks the judicial redistricting commission must follow Missouri's open meetings law.
Currently, Missouri political candidates can start filing Feb. 28 for this year's elections, so time is running short to resolve the redistricting process. However, a state Senate committee considered legislation this week to push back the start of candidate filing.
Besides the legal challenge over the state House map, lawsuits also have been filed challenging new state Senate and U.S. House districts.
The Missouri Supreme Court last month rejected the redrawn districts for the 34-member state Senate, requiring that process to start over. An initial meeting is set for Saturday.
The state high court on Thursday is scheduled to consider oral arguments in two lawsuits over Missouri's new congressional seats.
New boundaries for the state Legislature were developed based on population changes from the 2010 census. Congressional districts also were redrawn, with the state reduced from nine seats to eight because Missouri's population growth over the past decade did not keep pace with the rest of the nation.
Case is Johnson v. Koster, 12AC-CC00056
Missouri House districts: http://bit.ly/v0I59N