Federal court panel upholds term-limits ruling

Monday, February 23, 1998

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The state will appeal a court ruling that bars it from enforcing a voter-approved term-limits amendment, Attorney General Jay Nixon says.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis upheld a lower court’s order that bars the state from carrying out the law, which would have required congressional candidates to declare their stands on term limits when the election filing period opened Feb. 24.

Nixon said his office will now ask a full panel of the 8th Circuit’s 11 judges to delay U.S. district court Judge D. Brook Bartlett’s order. The state would need a simple majority to win a delay and enforce the amendment.

Meanwhile, the state now has until May to file briefs in its larger appeal of Bartlett’s ruling on the amendment’s constitutionality, a court official said. The 8th Circuit could hear the state’s case as early as June.

Nixon’s office, insisting that the law should remain pending the larger appeal, had asked the higher court to intervene so that Missouri’s Secretary of State Bekki Cook could implement “something that was passed overwhelmingly by the people of Missouri.” Fifty-eight percent of Missouri voters passed the amendment in 1996.

“We will continue to fight,” Nixon told The Associated Press. “We realize the challenges that face us, but getting an answer a year and a half from now won’t do much good.”

Bartlett, who on Feb. 19 refused the state’s request to delay his own order, had earlier invalidated the amendment. His order, handed down Feb. 18, bars Cook from requiring candidates to state their views on limits or identifying term-limits opponents by special language on election ballots.

An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is an option should a full review by the 8th Circuit fail, though Nixon said his office would take the case “one step at a time.”

Arthur Benson, a Kansas City attorney representing the plaintiff who attacked the amendment in a 1996 lawsuit against the state, criticized Nixon’s unbending defense of the law.

“The swiftness with which (the state’s delay motion) was denied is a strong indication that all judges who have looked at this now agree that the Missouri amendment was blatantly unconstitutional,” Benson said. “Attorney General Nixon should stop squandering state money in its defense.”

Bartlett’s Feb. 18 ruling that the law violated free speech, illegally added qualifications on candidates and wrongly shifted legislative powers from Congress and state lawmakers to citizens.

The order agreed with the lawsuit filed by Don Gralike, a St. Louis politician who plans to formalize his congressional candidacy sometime after the filing period opens.

The state has argued that ballot labels add no qualifications to candidates and that Missouri has a right to print “educational” information next to a candidate’s name.