JEFFERSON CITY - The new congressional districts came under fire Thursday as the Missouri Supreme Court considered a challenge to the new district lines.
The state's high court heard oral arguments questioning the legality of the districts drawn last year by the Missouri General Assembly. The newly drawn map essentially eliminated the district currently held by US Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan after Missouri's population grew at a slower rate compared to the rest of the nation.
The Missouri Constitution requires that congressional districts must be "composed of contiguous territory as compact and as nearly equal in population as may be." Attorney Gerry Greiman represented those challenging the new map and told the Supreme Court the new districts are not "compact" and were drawn for the benefit of the Republican party.
"The deliberate skewing of the electoral playing field for partisan advantage is precisely what the plaintiffs allege here," Greiman said.
But Solicitor General James Layton for the Attorney General, however, argued that politics does play a role in shaping congressional districts.
"It has always been about more than population and compactness," Layton said.
Political priorities were not the only argument the Supreme Court heard. Layton defended the new districts and said there was no standard to define the "compact" districts required by the Constitution. Attorney Edward Greim represented the General Assembly in court and said the standards for districts the plaintiffs wanted were impossible.
"No map could ever pass the compactness test under their standards. It's absurd," Greim said.
Judge Laura Stith also questioned Greim on the legislature's map.
"Can you tell me any standard that says that is compact? You have not yet, you have given lots of subjective reasons why it might have been a logical way to want to divide it but you have not addressed the compactness standard," Stith said.
Opponents of the new map targeted the the new 5th congressional district, currently represented by US Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver. The new fifth district's shape has been likened to a "dead lizard" because it includes urban Kansas City and three rural counties, without taking in eastern Jackson county.
"Are you telling us we should look at this as reasonable people and say the 5th district is compact?" Judge William Ray Price Jr. asked.
The Supreme Court gave no indication on when a decision on the case would be reached.The last time the high court considered a congressional redistricting case was in 1962 when the Democrats drew the boundary lines.
The new districts passed last year were vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon, whose veto was overridden later by the General Assembly. If the Supreme Court were to declare the map unconstitutional, the General Assembly would then be charged with drawing a new one.