Tuesday, January 17, 2012

State ex rel. Teichman v. Carnahan[1]

Opinion handed down January 17, 2012  
Link to Mo. Sup. Ct. Opinion 

The primary issue before the court in this case was whether the constitutionally-mandated commission set up to draw new state senate districts could withdraw and resubmit a plan after finding their initial plan constitutionally problematic. The Supreme Court of Missouri held that the commission lost authority once its initial plan was handed in. As the initial plan was indeed constitutionally infirm, the court determined an entirely new reapportionment process must take place. 

I. Facts and Holding
The case came about after Missouri voter Molly Teichman challenged the state’s senate reapportionment plan.[2] Teichman sought permanent writs of mandamus and prohibition, arguing that neither of the two submitted reapportionment plans was valid under the state constitution.[3] The issues were twofold. As Teichman argued, the first plan was problematic due to its failure to follow the constitutional requirements regarding multi-district counties.[4] Recognizing this problem, the non-partisan reapportionment commission charged with creating the reapportionment maps filed a revised plan with the Secretary of State.[5] Teichman argued that the commission, having already filed a plan, was without authority to revise that plan, and thus only the first plan could be considered.[6] 

In a per curiam opinion, the court held that its sole responsibility was to determine whether the committee acted within the limits and followed the requirements of Mo. Const. art. III, § 7, which outlines the commission’s role and duties.[7] The commission that submitted the challenged plans was actually the second such body to attempt to redraw the map, the first being discharged after failing to meet its constitutionally-mandated six month deadline. [8] 

 The commission unanimously approved and filed its initial plan with the Secretary of State on November 30, 2011.[9] On December 9, 2011, the commission attempted to withdraw the November 30 plan, submitting a “revised” version of its initial map.[10] The withdrawal arose from the commission’s concern over a constitutional provision regarding how multi-district counties should be handled.[11] 

The court first addressed the initial plan, holding that it did indeed violate the state constitution “by improperly dividing the district boundaries in the multi-district areas of Jackson and Greene Counties.”[12] The plan included two multi-district areas of Greene and Jackson Counties, and thus violated the constitution because of the multiple crossings.[13] The court further held the commission lacked authority to submit the revised plan.[14] The revision did address the infirmities of the first plan.[15] However, the court found the commission’s limited authority extended only to the filing of the first plan.[16] The state constitution places limits on the authority of constitutionally-created commissions like reapportionment committees.[17] Such commissions only have the powers expressly granted to them by the state constitution and are required to act within those boundaries.[18] 

The court determined that the plan became the law when it was filed with the Secretary of State.[19] As soon as that happened, the commission had discharged its constitutionally-mandated duties, and therefore had no further authority under the constitution to take any further actions.[20] Therefore, only the original, constitutionally-defect plan could be considered. 

As that plan had already been found infirm, the court turned to the state constitution to determine what should happen next. The court found that under Mo. Const. art. III, § 7, once a submitted plan was invalidated by a court of competent jurisdiction, the issue goes back to the governor and the reapportionment process begins anew.[21] The court, finding that all the necessary elements for restarting the process had occurred, issued the writ of prohibition to the Secretary of State and set the process for a new redistricting plan in motion.[22]
II. Legal Background
The Missouri Constitution requires that, following the once-per-decade U.S. Census, a bipartisan commission of citizens be appointed to redraw apportionment maps for the state senate.[23] This commission has only six months to file a redistricting plan with the secretary of state.[24] Should the commission fail to file within that time, the Supreme Court of Missouri must appoint a new commission consisting of six appellate court judges, with no more than two of those judges from any particular district.[25] The new committee then has 90 days to file a plan with the secretary of state.[26] 

The state constitution contains a number of limits on how the reapportionment commissions can carve up districts. Crucial to this case was a provision that stated “no county lines shall be crossed except when necessary to add sufficient population to a multi-district county or city to complete only one district which lies partly within such multi-district country or city so as to be nearly as equal as practicable in population.”[27] In short, the reapportionment plan generally cannot cross county lines. In the few cases where such crossing is necessary to achieve population equality, it can be done only once per county. The primary justification is the policy consideration that recognizes counties as important units of government, and thus seeks to protect those units.[28] 

In cases involving public elections, the Supreme Court of Missouri has the power to issue writs of prohibition when the time constraints of the issue do not provide time to fashion an adequate legal remedy or to allow a lower court to consider the issues.[29] Further, although reapportionment is an intrinsically political decision, the court has long had jurisdiction to determine whether or not particular plans comport with the state constitution.[30]
III. Comment
Not a single plan put forward regarding reapportionment maps in Missouri went unchallenged. The court, on the same day of the Teichman decision, issued another ruling in a case challenging the state’s U.S. congressional district maps.[31] That challenge arose from the state’s constitutional requirement that districts “shall be composed of contiguous territory as compact and nearly equal in population as may be.”[32] In that case, the court overturned a lower court’s dismissal of the claim, finding that a question of fact existed as to whether the districts were indeed as compactly drawn as necessary.[33] 

A month after the state senate and U.S. congressional decisions, the court heard argument in a challenge to the state house district map.[34] In that case, a Missouri voter challenged the population and compactness of the state house maps, as well as the process by which they were drawn.[35] As of this writing, the court has not issued a decision in that case. 

State house members are not the only political figures whose districts remain in flux.  Although the U.S. congressional redistricting plan was upheld by a Cole County judge on February 3, the court has yet to issue its review of that decision.[36] The state senate challenge, however, appears to have resolved itself. Unlike the first attempt, the new bipartisan citizen committee managed to submit a timely plan in early March that has been approved by all parties and accepted by the Secretary of State.[37] 

A federal challenge to the state senate maps was dropped, and it seems the state senators and their challengers can rest easy in knowing the contours of the districts they hope to represent.[38] This is not so, however, for either the U.S. or state house hopefuls. Because of the deadlines for filing for office, many of those seeking office have had to file to run for districts whose lines are not yet set.[39]
-Heath Hooper 

[1] No. SC92237 (Mo. January 17, 2012) (en banc), available at http://www.courts.mo.gov/file.jsp?id=51966.  The West Reporter citation is State ex rel. Teichman v. Carnahan, 357 S.W.3d 601 (Mo. 2012) (en banc) (per curiam).
[2] Id at 1.
[3] Id.
[4] Id at 8, citing Mo. Const. art. III, § 7.
[5] Id. at 6.
[6] Id. at 1.
[7] Id. at 2.
[8] Id. at 4-5.
[9] Id. at 5.
[10] Id. at 6.
[11] Id. at 6.
[12] Id. at 9.
[13] Id. (“In particular, the plan for the multi-district area of Jackson County included two districts, districts 8  (which crosses into Cass County), and 10, (which crosses into Cass and Clay Counties), which crossed county lines.  Likewise, the multi-district area of Greene County was reapportioned such that both districts 20 (which crosses into Christian, Douglas, Greene, Webster, and Wright Counties) and 28 (which crosses into Barton, Cedar, Dade, Dallas, Greene, Polk, and Vernon Counties) crossed county lines.”). The Missouri Constitution expressly prohibits a plan that crosses over a county border twice.  Id. at 8; see also Mo. Const. art. III, § 7.
[14] Id. at 10.
[15] Id. at 9.
[16] Id. at 12-13.
[17] See, e.g., Thompson v. Comm. on Legislative Research, 932 S.W.2d 392, 395 (Mo. 1996) (en banc) (“[A] Committee's authority is not co-extensive with that of the legislature; it has only the power granted it by the constitutional provision that creates it.”). In addition to constitutionally-created limits on commissions’ powers, Missouri courts also recognize the common law doctrine of functus officio. Teichman, No. SC92237, slip op. at 10; see also State ex rel. Jones v. Atterbury, 300 S.W.2d 806, 811 (Mo. 1957) (en banc). That doctrine provides that “(an officer or official body) [is] without further authority or legal competence because the duties and functions of the original commission have been fully accomplished.” Black’s Law Dictionary 682 (7th ed., 1999).
[18] Thompson, 932 S.W.2d at 395 (“Unless the power of the Committee is plenary…words granting certain authority exclude other powers not expressly given.”).
[19] Teichman, No. SC92237, slip op. at 10 (quoting Mo. Const. art. III, § 7) (“[O]nce the nonpartisan reapportionment commission’s reapportionment plan has been signed by a majority of the nonpartisan reapportionment commission and filed with the Secretary of State, ‘senators shall be elected according to such districts until a reapportionment is made as herein provided.’”).
[20] Id.
[21] Id. at 11.
[22] Id. at 13.
[23] Mo. Const. art. III, § 7.
[24] Id.
[25] Teichman, No. SC92237, slip op. at 4-5 (citing Mo. Const. Art. III, §§ 2, 7). This is the Supreme Court of Missouri’s only duty in the reapportionment process unless there is a court challenge to the map. Id. at 5.
[26] Id. at 4.
[27] Mo. Const. art. III, § 7.
[28] See Preisler v. Hearns, 362 S.W.2d 552, 556 (Mo. 1962) (en banc) (“[C]ounties are important governmental units, in which the people are accustomed to working together. Therefore, it has always been the policy of this state, in creating districts of more than one county (congressional, judicial or senatorial) to have them composed of entire counties.”).
[29] See State ex rel. Ashcroft v. Blunt, 696 S.W.2d 329, 331-32 (Mo. 1985) (en banc).  See also Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 84.24(e), (j).
[30] Hearns, 362 S.W.2d  at 555 (quoting Preisler v. Doherty, 284 S.W.2d 427, 431 (Mo. 1955) (en banc)) (“It is well settled that courts have jurisdiction and authority to pass upon the validity of legislative acts apportioning the state into senatorial or other election districts and to declare them invalid for failure to observe non-discretionary limitations imposed by the Constitution”).
[31] Pearson v. Koster, 359 S.W.3d 35(Mo. 2012) (en banc) (per curiam). The process for drawing U.S. congressional districts is different than the process for drawing up state districts in Missouri. See General Redistricting Information, Missouri Office of Administration, http://oa.mo.gov/bp/redistricting/geninfo.htm (last visited April 4, 2012).
[32] Pearson, 359 S.W.3d at 37 (quoting Mo. Const. art III, § 2).
[33] Id. at 43.
[34] Johnson v. Missouri, No. SC92351 (Mo. argued Feb. 27, 2012).
[35] Brief for Petitioner-Appellant at 13-22, Johnson v. Missouri, No. SC92351 (Mo. argued Feb. 27, 2012).
[36] Steve Kraske, Wacky Politics Damage Missouri, The Kansas City Star, March 23, 2012, available at http://www.kansascity.com/2012/03/23/3510000/steve-kraske-wacky-politics-damage.html.
[37] Chris Blank, Missouri Senate map opponents dismiss federal lawsuit, The Associated Press, March 14, 2012, available at http://www.semissourian.com/story/1825522.html.
[38] Id.
[39] Kraske, supra note 37, at 1.