Judge Beetem: Missouri Senate map meets constitutional requirements

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The State Senate district map in Missouri is constitutional despite its divisions in St. Louis County and northwest Missouri, according to Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem. He rejected a challenge to the districts, which were drawn last year by a panel of appeals court judges. In his 21-page ruling, Judge Beetem stated that the choices made by the Judicial Redistricting Commission comply with the Constitution and prioritize compactness over other factors.

Residents of Buchanan County and Hazelwood had argued that the map violated a provision of the Missouri Constitution. This provision requires as few splits as possible of municipalities and counties in the 34-district Senate map. The lawsuit claimed that the map violates the Missouri Constitution by concentrating black residents into two St. Louis area districts and dividing Buchanan County without justification.

The plaintiffs, one resident of Hazelwood and another from Buchanan County wanted Judge Beetem to redraw the lines for the 13th and 14th districts in St. Louis County. They also sought to revise the boundaries of the 12th, 21st, and 34th districts in northwest Missouri. The alternative plan, submitted by attorney Chuck Hatfield, proposed including all of Buchanan County in the 12th District, shifting a portion of Clay County from the 21st to the 34th District, and moving eight small population counties from the 12th District to the 21st.

Judge Beetem, who heard evidence during a one-day trial in July, wrote that the map meets the constitution’s requirements for compactness. He also stated that it does not violate provisions limiting differences from an ideal distribution of population.

In a text message to The Independent, Hatfield said that no decision has been made on whether to appeal the ruling, however, he noted that the numerous changes to the redistricting process since the last Senate map was created make an appeal an attractive option. Hatfield believes that the judge’s ruling provides an excellent opportunity for the Supreme Court to offer guidance on redistricting.

Every decade, following the census, political district lines are revised based on population to be as equal as possible. Lawmakers are responsible for redrawing congressional district lines, while the task of creating legislative district boundaries falls to 14-member Independent Bipartisan Citizens Commissions. One commission is for the House, and another is for the Senate. If either commission fails to produce a map, the responsibility is then transferred to a panel of appeals court judges. The House bipartisan commission has already produced a map for 163 districts, which has not been challenged.

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