JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri (AP) – The Missouri Supreme Court again weighed the constitutionality of an anti-citation tax law on Wednesday, one of the few measures adopted by state lawmakers in response to massive protests against police violence in Ferguson.
Judges heard arguments in the case over a 2015 law limiting the revenue cities can generate from traffic fines and other traffic tickets.
The law cracked down on Ferguson and other municipalities in St. Louis County more harshly, raising questions as to whether the law unconstitutionally targeted those towns for no reason.
But Solicitor General John Sauer told judges on Wednesday that “incredibly aggressive” and “unfair” income-generating practices are more prevalent and pressing in St. Louis County, justifying the state’s stricter rules for the region. .
“It’s a county-wide problem in St. Louis County,” Sauer said. “It is rooted in St. Louis County, based on all the information available. There is a pervasive culture.
The law came in response to the unrest after the shooting death of Michael Brown in 2014. The shooting of the 18-year-old black youth by a white officer sparked months of protests.
Brown was not driving when he was shot. But his death sparked a Justice Department review which found Ferguson operated a profit-driven municipal court system that exacerbated long-standing mistrust between the city’s predominantly white police force and the predominantly black community.
By law, a maximum of 20% of revenues for cities in Missouri can be made up of ticket funding. For municipalities in St. Louis County, the cap is 12.5%.
Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt, whose office defended the law in the courts, spearheaded the legislation during his tenure as state senator.
David Pittinsky, an attorney for the city of Normandy in St. Louis County, argued that the difference in how cities are treated under the law is meaningless. He said most St. Louis County municipal budgets were already funded at less than 20% by tickets before the law was passed.
“It is (an) irrational and implausible law to single out the 90 municipalities in St. Louis County when 69 of them already complied with the very law that the state has established for municipalities outside the County of St. Louis. St. Louis, “Pittinsky said.
Missouri Supreme Court overturned in 2017 parts of the law that more harshly cracked down on Ferguson and other St. Louis County municipalities. But the High Court ruled last year in a separate case that the logic behind its previous ruling “should no longer be followed,” reigniting the legal battle over the citation tax law.
A local judge in December allowed the stricter provisions of the law against St. Louis and Ferguson County must be applied.
The judges of the Supreme Court did not indicate when or how they could rule. But several noted that the High Court had never before reviewed a final judgment in a civil case as requested by the attorney general’s office in that case.