If You’re Just Learning About the Freedom Center
Recent publicity has resulted in a spike in the number of people trying to learn about the Freedom Center of Missouri and the work that we do. If you’re one of the folks just now hearing about our work, we’re glad you’re checking out our website. The “About Us” section will give a general overview of our mission, our staff, and our Board of Directors, but in this post we wanted to highlight several of the successes we’ve seen over the years.
Dave Roland, our director of litigation, has won several important, precedent-setting victories in court, such as:
Wright-Jones v. Nasheed, 368 S.W.3d 157 (Mo. 2012), in which the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that when legislative districts have been redrawn, the Missouri Constitution allows candidates to run in a newly-created district that overlaps part of the would-be candidate’s old district, even if the candidate does not (yet) live in the newly-created district. Robin Wright-Jones, the incumbent in this case, had anticipated challenge from our client, Jamilah Nasheed, and had negotiated a district map that specifically carved our client’s residence out of the new senate district. After initial losses in both the trial court and the Court of Appeals, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of our client. This decision saved the candidacies of a significant percentage of those sitting in the General Assembly, as the new district lines had cut off many incumbents from their prior constituents.
Vowell v. Kander, 451 S.W.3d 267 (Mo. App. 2014) – The Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that the Missouri Constitution and state statutes forbid the Secretary of State unilaterally to remove a candidate from the ballot based on the Secretary’s opinion of the candidate’s qualifications. Former Secretary of State Jason Kander had ordered our client, Natalie Vowell, off the ballot in her race for state representative because he believed her unqualified to run for that office. But under state law, there are only three ways a candidate for office may be excluded from running for or serving in that office if their qualifications are questioned. First, an opposing candidate in the primary election may go to court to challenge their qualifications. Second, an opposing candidate in a general election may go to court to challenge their qualifications. Or third, if the candidate wins the election the question of her qualifications may be raised in the house to which he or she has been elected, and it will be up to the members of that house to decide whether the qualifications are met. As the Court of Appeals concluded, the Secretary of State may not take it upon himself or herself to decide a candidate’s qualifications. After hearing arguments on the case, the Missouri Supreme Court left the appellate court’s decision in place.
Constitution Party of Missouri v. St. Louis County – St. Louis County had a vacant seat on its county council and Cindy Redburn, a member of the Constitution Party of Missouri, wanted to be a candidate to fill that vacancy. But the County Charter said that only the two largest political parties could have their candidates on the ballot – independent and minor party candidates were completely excluded. Consequently, County officials refused to accept Redburn’s declaration of candidacy. Shortly after we filed our lawsuit, the County put Redburn on the ballot, but they continued to argue that their county charter provision was constitutional. After almost a year’s worth of legal wrangling, the federal judge entered a consent judgment permanently preventing the County from enforcing the charter provision that excluded minor parties and independent candidates from the ballot in special elections.
Franks v. Hubbard, 498 S.W.3d 862 (Mo. App. 2016) – For decades members of the Hubbard family won elections in north St. Louis by thin margins that depended on extraordinary support from absentee ballots. Prior to the state representative primary election in which Bruce Franks, Jr., was to take on three-term incumbent Penny Hubbard, Dave asked the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners to look into potential violations of the state’s absentee ballot laws – the Board refused to do so. Franks lost the primary election by fewer than ninety votes, even though he won a significant majority of votes cast at the polls on election day; his opponent won only by virtue of winning an overwhelming majority of the absentee ballots. Dave filed an election challenge on behalf of Franks, and showed at trial that the primary election results were tainted by massive violations of absentee ballot laws, which led the judge to order a special election. Hubbard appealed, claiming that it would violate the U.S. Constitution to disregard the results of the primary election. The Missouri Court of Appeals held: “Implementing procedures to safeguard against fraud helps ensure that qualified registered voters’ votes are not diluted by unlawful voter activity. These procedures… effectively protect voters’ rights, not abridge them.” Id. at 872
We have also had a number of lower-key successes that did not result in judicial opinions. For example, the Freedom Center:
- Compelled the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners to release the public records that allowed us to prove massive election fraud.
- Helped defend a rabbit breeder in rural Missouri against federal government’s threat of millions of dollars in fines.
- Won acquittal for a Ron Paul activist charged with trespassing when he was engaging in purely political speech on a public sidewalk.
- Convinced the St. Charles Prosecuting Attorney to drop charges against cannabis legalization activists arrested for “soliciting without a permit” as they attempted to gather signatures for a petition while on public sidewalks.
- Persuaded the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney to apologize and order law enforcement officials to return hand-made political signs that had been confiscated from a citizen’s yard on the basis that the signs lacked a “paid for by” statement on them.
- Made the City of Ferguson discontinue efforts to penalize Karl Tricamo for growing organic vegetables in his front yard.
- Prodded Governor Nixon to call special elections to fill several vacancies in General Assembly (he was trying to prevent veto-proof supermajority in the legislature).
- Forced the government to drop legal action against woman attempting to earn a living as an African-style hairbraider in St. Louis.
Government Transparency — The Freedom Center is now four-for-four winning judgments in trial courts to the effect that multi-jurisdictional drug task forces (as well as other law enforcement agencies) are required to comply with the state’s Sunshine Law; this is part of a six-case strategic litigation campaign to ensure that these powerful, shadowy law enforcement agencies are transparent and accountable to the people of this State. The victories so far have come over the East Central Missouri Drug Task Force, the Kansas City Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Task Force, the MUSTANG Task Force, and the Cole County Prosecuting Attorney. That last case resulted in our client winning the largest transparency-related civil penalty in state history.
Property Rights — We are fighting important battles to reaffirm that both the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions protect citizens’ fundamental right to use their private property without undue governmental interference. In Duffner v. City of St. Peters, we are arguing that a city may neither lawfully force an elderly couple with grass allergies to replace their lawful, harmless flowers with the turf grass mandated by city law, nor may it threaten them with hundreds of thousands of dollars in criminal fines and more than twenty years in prison for choosing to cultivate flowers rather than a plant that makes them sick. In Calzone v. Hawley, we are relying on the Fourth Amendment to challenging the constitutionality of a Missouri statute that authorizes certain law enforcement officers to stop virtually any vehicle on the state’s highways and interstates, even if the officer has no reason to suspect any violation of state law.
Free Expression — Each year organizations from all over the state invite citizen activists to come to the State Capitol for “lobby days,” at which the activists identify themselves with their favored organizations and ask lawmakers to support a particular bill or policy that the believe to be important. But according to the Missouri Ethics Commission, this sort of activism might require the citizens to register and report to the government just like professional lobbyists! This is the first time any state in the country has attempted to impose such a requirement on citizens before they are permitted to share their political ideas with those in power. In Calzone v. Hagan, we and our colleagues at the Institute for Free Speech are fighting for the idea that the First Amendment prohibits the government from treating unpaid citizen activists as though they are professional lobbyists.
In addition to all of these, the Freedom Center also regularly offers testimony at the legislature to help lawmakers understand the constitutional implications of the bills they are considering and we also meet with community groups to promote understanding of and appreciation for constitutional principles.
In short, we’re working all over the state to ensure that government officials and citizens alike understand the importance of individual liberty and constitutionally limited, transparent, and accountable government. If you like the work we’re doing, please sign up for our mailing list – we will never, ever share your contact information without your permission! – and consider making a donation!