Supreme Court passes on ruling about candidate's qualifications

A state representative candidate's name will remain on the Aug. 5 Democratic primary ballot in St. Louis, even though Secretary of State Jason Kander tried to remove it.

After hearing oral arguments last Monday in an appeal of the case, Missouri's Supreme Court decided not to issue an opinion or order and, instead, last Wednesday sent the case back to the state appeals court in Kansas City.

A three-judge panel there already had ruled on June 19 that Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem was wrong to prevent Natalie Vowell from suing Kander over removing her name, after his office had accepted her filing on March 11.

Vowell filed as a Democratic challenger to incumbent state Rep. Penny Hubbard, D-St. Louis, to represent the House district that includes downtown St. Louis. The winner of the Democratic primary still must face Republican John Hubb in the Nov. 4 election.

Missouri's Constitution says candidates seeking to serve in the state House must, among other requirements, "have been a qualified voter for two years and a resident of the county or district which he is chosen to represent for one year" before the general election day.

But Vowell acknowledged she didn't register to vote until July 2013 - less than two years before this year's Nov. 4 general election - and Kander told her last May he wouldn't put her name on the final ballot unless she showed she met the constitutional qualifications.

Vowell sued Kander in Cole County, saying the secretary of state didn't have the legal authority to verify her qualifications after she submitted her candidate's declaration.

After a hearing, Beetem ruled in May that Vowell didn't have standing to bring the lawsuit, because she didn't meet the constitutional requirements for being a House member.

But the appeals court ruled June 19 that Vowell's right to bring a lawsuit was different from the qualifications question - and that Vowell hadn't asked for a ruling on the qualifications issue.

And, the appeals court ruled, Vowell was right that Kander doesn't have authority to question candidates' qualifications, once their filings have been accepted.

Kander appealed the June 19 ruling to the Supreme Court - but after last week's hearing, the seven-judge high court decided to return the case to Kansas City, leaving the appeals court's order as the "last word" in the case.

The three-judge panel in Kansas City "readopted" their June 19 ruling and told the Cole County circuit court to hold "further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

The circuit court late last week reopened the case, and indicated it was to be assigned a different judge.

No new hearings had been scheduled, as of Monday evening.

Nanci Gonder, Attorney General Chris Koster's spokeswoman, said Monday: "We do not believe there are any pending issues before the court."

Vowell's attorney, David Roland of Mexico, didn't respond to a request seeking a comment for this story.

The appeals court noted last month that state laws allow the House of Representatives to decide if a candidate should be accepted in the House if a challenge to the qualifications "have not been adjudicated prior to the general election."