The Missouri State Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse

Information on Missouri's constitutionally mandated Nov. 8, 2022 constitutional convention referendum, including news, opinion, and history

The Missouri Senate’s redistricting commission failed to submit a plan to the Secretary of State’s office by the constitutionally mandated Dec. 23 deadline, thus handing over responsibility for drawing the Senate’s district lines to a panel of appellate judges. Instead of choosing the district lines themselves, the judges should hand that part of their task to a citizens’ assembly on redistricting — essentially a supersized jury.

Most judges care a great deal about their reputation and the judiciary’s for impartiality. A sure way to damage that reputation is by appearing to approve partisan redistricting lines.

The reputational problem stems from judges’ blatant conflict of interest when making statehouse friends and enemies. Many judges are heavily dependent on state legislators for their appointment, retention or promotion. Many even won judgeships partly because of their track record as reliable partisans. To act on that perceived self-interest is to risk their own and the court’s legitimacy.

A citizens’ assembly on redistricting would mitigate the conflict-of-interest problem by allowing judges to delegate redistricting map selection to a representative sample of average citizens.

A citizens’ assembly is selected randomly like a conventional jury, except it is much larger to represent a better microcosm of the public. Like convening a jury, judges have an inherent power to convene such an assembly. Like a jury, too, judges moderate the assembly process and explain the relevant law to the assembly members. The task of the assembly is not to draw maps but choose among them. As with all redistricting maps, any map chosen by the assembly is subject to review by the U.S. and Missouri supreme courts.

What is new is that for the first time in America’s decennial redistricting history, the machine-readable datasets, algorithms and evaluation models needed to efficiently implement this type of mapmaking process already exist.

Consider one possible implementation:

• The assembly would consist of 544 members randomly selected from registered voters but stratified so that each of Missouri’s 34 Senate districts is represented by eight men and eight women, and the overall assembly’s composition mirrors the partisan composition of registered voters.

• To reduce cost and inconvenience, assembly members would remotely attend the statewide redistricting trial via their local courthouse.

• The judges would instruct the assembly in redistricting law (e.g., districts must be contiguous and population-equivalent).

• To dramatically reduce the burden of choosing among many maps, assembly members would choose based on simple quantifiable criteria covering the entire state. For example, assembly members could choose based on a combination of rankings for individual components, such as one gauging compactness, or an overall components score, such as the Princeton Gerrymandering Project’s competitiveness score.

• Assembly members would only seriously consider maps that can be easily replicated and evaluated by others because they are drawn from publicly accessible databases and transparent algorithms.

• Democratic and Republican legislative leaders could submit maps — along with any principle-based algorithms that generated them — but so, too, could a citizen whose map was backed by at least 100 petition signatures.

• The judges could appoint special masters to validate and mathematically score all submitted redistricting plans.

• The assembly would meet for a minimum of two days before voting.

A citizens’ assembly on redistricting would untie redistricting’s Gordian Knot: the rampant conflicts of interest when either legislators or judges control redistricting maps. Unlike other potential solutions to this conflict-of-interest problem, this one requires no new statutes or constitutional amendments. The judicial branch could implement it immediately because it has always had the inherent power to convene such a supersized jury. At long last, it also has the requisite technology at its fingertips.

A citizens’ assembly on redistricting would not be a perfect solution to the gerrymandering problem, but it would be a significant and politically feasible improvement over the status quo, in my opinion.

If the appellate judges fail to implement an impartial redistricting process, this would be a good reason for voters to call a state constitutional convention when they have the opportunity next November. If ever there was a tailor-made issue for a convention to wrestle with, it’s fixing Missouri’s gerrymandering problem. The unique democratic function of Missouri’s constitutional convention process is to address reform issues, such as legislative gerrymandering, where both public, inclusive deliberation is desirable and a legislature’s interest collides with its constituents.

J.H. Snider edits The State Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse and writes about the most difficult democratic reform problems.


Source: Snider, J.H., Appellate judges should call a jury to pick state Senate’s redistricting map, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 24, 2022.