FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 9, 2016
CONTACT: Dave Roland
Missouri Supreme Court Defies Voters, Rules Amendment 5 “Worked No Substantial Change” in Missouri Constitution
Mexico, Missouri—By a 5-2 margin, a majority of the Missouri Supreme Court’s judges have effectively nullified a state constitutional amendment approved by more than sixty percent of voters in 2014. Amendment 5, as the measure was known, made major textual changes to Article I, section 23 of the Missouri Constitution and was designed to establish the most stringent constitutional protections possible for citizens’ rights to keep and bear arms. But in a trio of opinions authored by Judge Laura Denvir Stith and handed down today that reject decades of rulings about how courts must interpret changes to legal provisions, the Missouri Supreme Court has concluded that the amendment “worked no substantial change in Article I, section 23.”
Judges Mary Russell, Paul Wilson, Zel Fischer, and Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge each joined the majority opinion.
“The words of the Missouri Constitution are the most essential, most fundamental tool the people have to define—and limit—the powers of their government,” said Dave Roland, director of litigation for the Freedom Center of Missouri, who argued one of the three cases before the Missouri Supreme Court. “The people used the most powerful language available to them to demand protection for their rights to defend themselves using firearms; the majority opinion openly defies the people’s authority to protect this right or any other constitutional right.”
In a stinging dissent, Judge Richard Teitelman highlighted the flaws in the majority’s logic, saying, “The principal opinion asserts ‘context matters’ when courts apply strict scrutiny. If context matters, then this Court should consider the fact that the list of nonviolent and impersonal regulatory offenses is a long one and it grows every year. … [The felon-in-possession statute] strips the delinquent taxpayer of his or her constitutional rights on the same terms as a murderer. I fail to see how restricting the constitutional rights of those who bet on horse races or divulge the names and addresses of donors to a state-established trust fund is narrowly tailored to the prevention of gun violence.”
Judge George Draper joined Judge Teitelman’s dissent.
“These decisions put in jeopardy every single right that Missourians hold dear,” explained Jenifer Zeigler Roland, the Freedom Center’s executive director. “The majority has today rejected the idea that our constitutions impose serious restrictions on governmental power and has announced that, no matter how clearly any individual right is stated in the Missouri Constitution, four judges who do not like that right can render it meaningless.”
The full impact of the majority’s rulings is revealed by what it means for Pierre Clay, the defendant in one of the three cases. The only offense of which Clay has been convicted is possessing a weapon in his car for purposes of self-defense – which is, of course, the essence of the constitutional right at issue in this case.
“Mr. Clay is a hard-working husband and father who simply wants to keep his family safe,” Roland concluded. “It is heartbreaking and senseless that he now faces time in prison for no reason other than that he exercised his constitutional right to possess a firearm for defensive purposes.”
The Freedom Center of Missouri vows to continue working at all levels to protect and, where necessary, to restore Missourians’ individual liberties and their authority to act via constitutional amendment to restrict the powers of their government.
Additional information about the Freedom Center’s mission, cases, and activities can be found online at www.mofreedom.org.
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[NOTE: To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may call Dave Roland at (314) 604-6621.]