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17 February 2012

Tishaura Jones: Ethics Law Invalidated, Attorney General Asks For Hammerschmidt's Reversal


The Missouri Supreme Court on Feb. 14 invalidated a 2010 ethics and campaign finance law because it violates the state constitution’s prohibition against legislation being changed from its original purpose. The court’s action had been widely expected given that the law in question originally passed the Senate as a one-page bill related to government procurement practices before House Republicans transformed it into a 66-page ethics and campaign finance bill.

The court unanimously struck down all of the provisions of the 2010 legislation, SB 844, except for the original section relating to government procurement. The invalidated provisions include those giving the Missouri Ethics Commission increased investigative authority, prohibiting the transfer of campaign contributions between campaign committees and requiring candidates to publicly disclose contributions in excess of $500within 48 hours when the donation is made during the legislative session. In the wake of the court’s decision, lawmakers are considering new legislation to reinstate many of those provisions.

Starting with its landmark 1994 ruling in Hammerschmidt v. Boone County, the Supreme Court has vigorously enforced previously ignored provisions of the Missouri Constitution that lawmakers from changing bills from the original purpose or lumping together unrelated issues in the same legislation. Under Hammerschmidt and the numerous related cases that followed, the court’s decision invalidating SB 844 had been considered a foregone conclusion.

Attorney General Chris Koster, however, added a new twist to the case on appeal when he asked the court to uphold SB 844 by reversing its nearly two-decades of precedent on the issue and returning to pre-Hammerschmidt interpretations that mostly allowed lawmakers to ignore constitutional limitations on legislative procedures. In its opinion in the latest case, Legends Bank v. State of Missouri, the court made no mention of the attorney general’s request and continued to follow its recent precedent.


Cole County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Joyce on Feb. 14 ruled that a new redistricting plan for the state House of Representatives passes constitutional muster, prompting an immediate appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court, which hasn’t yet accepted the case. If the high court upholds the redistricting plan, it will be used beginning with this year’s election cycle.

The bipartisan group of plaintiffs argued the House redistricting plan created late last year by a commission of six state appellate judges violated state constitutional requirements that districts be compact, contiguous and as equal in population as possible. The plaintiffs also argued the appellate commission violated the state’s open meetings law by conducting its work in secret. Joyce rejected all of those claims.


With a new state Senate redistricting plan already invalidated and the fate of new congressional and state House districts still to be determined, the Senate on Feb. 16 gave final approval to legislation that would delay the start of the candidate filing period for the August party primaries from Feb. 28 to March 27. The bill, SB 773, now goes to the House of Representatives.

Even if the bill passes and is signed into law by the governor before Feb. 28, it is uncertain if new districts for the Senate and, if necessary, the other offices will be finalized by the end of March. Population shifts under the 2010 U.S. Census required that legislative districts be redrawn to reflect those changes.

A commission consisting of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans will meet on Feb. 18 to begin the process of creating new Senate districts but that process could take months. The Supreme Court heard arguments in a challenge to the congressional districts on Feb. 16 and is expected to rule quickly. If it strikes down the new congressional map, the General Assembly would have to enact a new plan that meets constitutional muster. A trial judge upheld the House redistricting plan on Feb. 14 but an appeal to the Supreme Court is pending.

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