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Opinion: Three’s a crowd — an op-ed on redistricting


While thousands marched in Washington, D.C. this past week advocating for the end of the brutal practice of abortion, the Missouri Legislature‘s actions were threatening to help Democrats stop the hard-fought progress made to protect life in the womb.

Every 10 years in this country a census is done, and states draw new maps based on the population growth to ensure a representative government by the people for the people. In Missouri, the legislature has a constitutional mandate to draw our federal congressional maps in a way that is compact and protects communities of interest.

State Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman

For decades, these fights have been some of the most vicious in our legislatures, and for good reason. The party in power has the ability to strengthen the seats held by their members, and even in many states, add representation to their federal delegation. Never has this fight been more pressing than today with Democrats in Washington trying everything they can to hold onto their slim majority. So far, national redistricting has created seven more Democratic-leaning seats in Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Oregan.

This brings us home to Missouri. If the legislature were to draw and pass a 7-1 map (meaning seven Republicans and one Democrat), instead of a 6-2 (six Republicans and two Democrats) map, the majority party would open the state up to the likelihood of courts drawing the maps on the legislature’s behalf. Or so the argument goes. Respectfully, this is simply wrong.

So, what would happen if the legislature drew a map that was challenged in court and struck down? The court must allow the legislature to redraw the congressional map.  The Supreme Court “has repeatedly held that redistricting and reapportioning legislative bodies is a legislative task which the federal courts should make every effort not to pre-empt.” Wise v. Lipscomb, 437 U.S. 535, 539 (1978).  “When a federal court declares an existing apportionment scheme unconstitutional, it is, therefore, appropriate, whenever practicable, to afford a reasonable opportunity for the legislature to meet constitutional requirements by adopting a substitute measure rather than for the federal court to devise and order into effect its own plan.”  Id. at 540.

But! What if we have run out of time? Filing is opening soon. The Supreme Court has further explained that “[a]bsent evidence that these state branches will fail timely to perform that duty, a federal court must neither affirmatively obstruct state reapportionment nor permit federal litigation to be used to impede it.”  Branch, 538 U.S. at 261-62 (quoting Growe v. Emison, 507 U.S. 25, 34 (1993)).  When a federal district court in Virginia held that the Virginia House of Delegates congressional redistricting plan violated the Equal Protection Clause, the court “afford[ed] the Virginia General Assembly a ‘reasonable opportunity…to meet constitutional requirements by adopting a substitute measure,’ rather than re-drawing the districts ourselves.”  Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Bd. of Elections, 326 F. Supp.3d 128, 181 (E.D. Va. 2018).

What’s more, the Missouri Supreme Court has held that the Missouri Constitution follows this rule.  “It is the responsibility of the Missouri General Assembly to draw new congressional election districts.”  Pearson v. Koster, 359 S.W.3d 35, 37 (Mo. 2012) (citing Mo. Const., art. III, §45). The Missouri Supreme Court during the last cycle of congressional redistricting in 2012 in Missouri confirmed that, should a court declare a congressional redistricting plan unconstitutional or violative of districting requirements, the court will defer to the legislature to enact a new plan.

As the Supreme Court deliberates on whether to overturn Roe v. Wade, and the Democrats’ narrative on mask and vaccine mandates falls apart, why are we negotiating against ourselves? Or, more aptly, why are we not using every tool at our disposal to send more Republicans to Washington? I don’t know.