Cures court case to get hearing
JEFFERSON CITY—The case of Cures Without Cloning (CWC) v. Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan and Missouri State Auditor Susan Montee is likely to debut in November or December in Cole County Circuit Court. How might the language that Carnahan has written for a ballot summary of a proposed embryonic stem cell/human cloning initiative hold up before a judge?
Carnahan, a Democrat who is for embryonic stem cell research and has accepted a $25,000 campaign contribution from one group promoting therapeutic cloning, is alleged to have committed five violations of the Missouri State Constitution in crafting the ballot summary language, according to CWC Attorney Eddie Greim of Kansas City. Montee, a Democrat who issued the fiscal note and fiscal note summary for the initiative, is alleged to have committed similar violations, Greim said.
In an Oct. 22 conference call with reporters, Greim said the actions of the two Democrat state office holders run contrary to the intent of both the state and national constitutions, not to mention the federal Civil Rights Act. He cited “a very long and even now developing” line of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that constrains state officials when they choose to meddle in the initiative and referendum process. The “wide latitude” traditionally given to the Missouri Secretary of State on such matters is balanced by the free speech rights of common citizens, Greim said. State officials who are given “totalitarian latitude” would likely exist in a totalitarian nation.
“One can imagine a regime where the government just doesn’t allow other candidates to run,” Greim said. “The government doesn’t allow certain issues to come up for a vote. Maybe there’s a provision in the constitution saying you have the right, but the way it is enforced means no one ever really gets to do it.”
Associated Press Correspondent David Lieb seemed to try to minimize the depth of the Count IV arguments (see related item) by asking this question: “Are you essentially arguing that because the language that was drafted was unfair that you would have to spend more money for ads and direct mail and stuff like that, and that that is somehow a constitutional violation?” Greim said Lieb’s question was too narrow, noting that “having to spend more money is not the only constitutional harm that we’re alleging.”
The alleged violations are several. They range from the right of the people to amend the constitution to the right of the people to do so by initiative to the right of free and open elections to the right of freedom of speech to the right to equal protection under the law.
Count V of the complaint concerns alleged violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and cuts to the heart of “state officials who are acting in their official capacity but are using their authority to violate the constitutional rights of citizens,” Greim said.
“One way that the (United States) Supreme Court has found that state officials can infringe on peoples’ constitutional rights or First Amendment rights is by ratcheting up the amount of effort and money that they’ve got to spend on something just to get their message across. And there’s many, many ways you can do it. You can actually get out there in the field and restrict what they can do circulating petitions. The government can engage in its own political speech and attach that to your message.”
The summary statement language submitted to Carnahan is as follows: “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to: prohibit human cloning that is conducted by creating a human embryo at any stage, from the one-cell stage onward; prohibit expenditure of taxpayer dollars on human cloning, or on research or experimentation using a human embryo or any part of a human embryo derived from human cloning; and allow stem cell research for therapies and cures that complies with these prohibitions and the prohibitions of Section 38(d) of the Constitution?”
The summary statement that Carnahan actually wrote is as follows: “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to repeal the current ban on human cloning or attempted cloning and to limit Missouri patients’ access to stem cell research, therapies and cures approved by voters in November 2006 by: redefining the ban on human cloning or attempted cloning to criminalize and impose civil penalties for some currently allowed research, therapies and cures; and prohibiting hospitals or other institutions from using public funds to conduct such research?”
Greim said the rewriting in this case is damaging because “the secretary of state cannot start trying to predict the practical consequences—the policy effects—of proposals, and opine on those. Once you cross that line, you have prepared an insufficient or unfair statement.”
While the editorial boards of the state’s top two newspapers remain firmly behind embryonic stem cell research/therapeutic cloning, some of the state’s top columnists are tired of covering the whole ordeal.
One St. Louis Post-Dispatch op-ed writer scolded Carnahan for using the phrase “repeal the current ban,” writing, “That’s confusing. It would expand the ban.” He went on to criticize her for the longer phrase “criminalize and impose civil penalties for some currently allowed research,” calling that “loaded language.”
A Kansas City Star op-ed writer confessed that he is frustrated by “the semantic gamesmanship surrounding this debate.” He called it “increasingly annoying and incomprehensible,” complaining that “soon it will be understood only by lawyers.”
Greim is optimistic that not all of the language being slung from one side of the state to the other is loaded.
“I think all of us would like to see this out there just being debated by both sides,” he said. “If the government would just keep its thumb off the scale, I think that will happen.”
Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Interim Executive Director David Tolliver remains firmly on the side of the average Missouri Baptist who may not understand the legal nuances of a complicated court case but does comprehend the need to save human beings no matter what size they may be. “I encourage all Missouri Baptists to pray for those who will speak in court on behalf of life, that they’d have clarity of thought and mind and be heard well,” Tolliver said.