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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Abortion Fighters Lose Challenge in Missouri

ST. LOUIS (CN) - Missouri officials do not have to face a lawsuit for their handling of ballot initiatives proposed by a group that condemns abortion and stem-cell research, the 8th Circuit ruled.

Missouri Roundtable for Life and one of its directors, Frederic Sauer, proposed 13 amendments to the Missouri Constitution in 2008 and 2009, but they say that Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan and former Missouri auditor Susan Montee "continuously and persistently stymied and frustrated" their intended messages.

Though citizens can propose constitutional amendments in Missouri, state officials must prepare a summary statement, fiscal note summary and fiscal note for each proposed amendment.

Roundtable and Sauer objected to the statements provided by Carnahan and Montee, both Democrats, but the officials noted an absence of specific challenges.

"Counsel for the state officers claims that Roundtable never circulated any of its thirteen proposed amendments in the attempt to secure signatures in support and that it withdrew all of its petitions before the 2010 elections," the federal appeals court noted. "The record made before the district court does not show any effort to obtain the required number of signatures for them to be voted on. No evidence was produced by Roundtable to show that it ever affixed the official ballot titles to initiative petitions, attempted to obtain signatures in favor of its proposed amendments, actually obtained any signatures, or was thwarted in its attempts."

"It never submitted any affidavits to show that it ever affixed the official ballot title to a petition, attempted to gain signatures supporting its proposals, or encountered any citizen confusion," the court added.

A federal judge dismissed the complaint with prejudice after finding that Roundtable and Sauer failed to state a First Amendment claim and committed other errors.

The 8th Circuit affirmed March 15. "Roundtable has not clearly articulated how it has suffered any invasion of a legally protected interest or how it has been injured by the official ballot titles prepared by the state officers," Judge Diana Murphy wrote for a three-judge panel. "Roundtable's conclusory complaint accuses the secretary of state and auditor of 'draft[ing] and issu[ing]' summary statements 'designed to negatively affect voters' perceptions of and reactions to the proposed amendment[s].' It alleges that it has been 'continuously and persistently stymied and frustrated' and that it 'cannot reasonably proceed to exercise [its] rights under the law to present initiative petitions before Missouri voters, because of the [state officers'] actions and ... pattern of conduct.'

"Roundtable attached as exhibits to its unverified complaint several documents including blank petition sheets, its own volunteered summary statements, and ballot titles prepared by the state officers. Its attachments did not include any documents to show that subsequent to the certification of the official ballot title Roundtable ever took advantage of the opportunity to circulate its proposals in order to obtain voter signatures to place its initiatives on the ballot. There are no allegations or showing that Roundtable ever affixed any official ballot title to petitions or that it ever attempted to obtain signatures in favor of its proposals. Nor has it shown that anyone misunderstood its intended message because of the official ballot titles or that citizens would only look at the official ballot titles when deciding whether to support a proposal. Roundtable offered no showing that the summaries prepared by the state officers prevented it from obtaining signatures in support of its proposals."

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