Missouri Supreme Court keeps farming, gun rights measures

Written by Muleskinner Staff


(JEFFERSON CITY, Mo., AP) — The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld two constitutional amendments guaranteeing the right to farm and the right to bear arms, but also said voters could go to court to challenge the summaries of ballot issues even after they’ve been approved by voters.
Judges could have voided the election results if they determined that the descriptions summarizing the two proposals on ballots last year were misleading. Instead, judges decided the voter-approved amendments will stay in place.
The court also ruled that residents can challenge ballot language after an election, potentially opening the door for questionable summaries to be disputed in later cases.
Lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office tried to persuade judges to dismiss the cases by arguing that critics were too late in filing their lawsuits. But judges said the current tight deadlines to challenge ballot summaries before an election, especially when proposed late in an election year by the Legislature, could make it difficult to challenge a measure before it hits the ballot.
Farmers, gun-control activists and other groups had sued the state over the two measures, saying the amendment summaries printed on ballots misled voters and didn’t delve into possible unintended consequences. For example, some opponents said the descriptions could be interpreted by courts to allow convicted felons to own weapons or grant more gun rights to foreign agriculture companies.
But the Supreme Court ruled that the summaries adequately hit the core of proposed changes.
The opinion on the firearms measure, known as Amendment 5, was rooted in part on the argument that it was intended to ensure rights already guaranteed to citizens by the U.S. Constitution. St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson — who opposed the amendment — disputed that argument, saying the state amendment could be misused.
“The court may have thought this was a benign case about the language on a ballot measure, but Amendment 5 is already causing serious public safety problems in St. Louis and across Missouri,” said Dotson, who filed the lawsuit against the gun rights amendment.
He cited a St. Louis circuit judge who ruled earlier this year that some felons should now be allowed to own guns because of the amendment, as well as a lawsuit filed by an Ohio man seeking to allow visitors to bring firearms to the St. Louis Zoo.
Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster backed Tuesday’s ruling, saying “strong support of the Second Amendment and strong support of law enforcement need not be in conflict.”
Attorneys for opponents of the farming measure were not immediately available to comment Tuesday. In the past, they’ve argued that the amendment summary misled voters to believe that all Missouri residents — not just farmers and ranchers — would have the right to farm. The judges said the language was fair because the term “citizens,” which was used in the summary, also includes farmers.
However, the court’s ruling could give future critics of ballot summaries more time to challenge them in court.
The issue came up in the case involving Dotson, who contested the ballot summary the day it was finalized by the secretary of state. That gave the court less than two weeks to rule on the fairness of the language before the six-week deadline from ballot printing that judges have to tweak measures, and the court at that time ruled the case moot.
“Judicial review of a ballot title is especially important in a Legislature-proposed ballot initiative,” the judges wrote. “This is true because the proponent of the initiative — the General Assembly — writes the ballot title as well as the proposed amendment without any review of the ballot title by the executive department.”
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