Court upholds separate gender spots on political committees

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A man cannot be a woman in Missouri politics.

That's the essence of a Missouri Supreme Court ruling issued Tuesday that unanimously upheld a state law setting aside separate spots for men and women on political parties' county committees.

St. Louis County resident Christian Tompras -- a man -- had challenged the law as unconstitutionally discriminatory after he was denied the ability this spring to file as a candidate for Chesterfield Township Republican committeewoman.

St. Louis County Circuit Judge Bernhardt Drumm Jr. ruled against Tompras last month.

The Supreme Court upheld that decision Tuesday, ruling a political party office was not the same as public office. As such, the court said it was not protected by a state constitutional provision stating that "no person shall be disqualified from holding office in this state because of sex."

"Political parties' rights to govern themselves are protected by the First Amendment guarantee of free association," the Supreme Court said in an unsigned opinion. "Further, the state's interest in promoting the associational rights of political parties is sufficient to overcome an equal protection challenge to the statute."

Tompras' attorney, Howard Shalowitz, said he would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal.

"Anytime someone registers for office, be it political or public, and someone has to first see what they look like -- be it man, woman, black or white -- there's something wrong with that," he said.

While Tompras is a Republican, Shalowitz is a Democrat.

Both the Democrat and Republican state parties praised the Supreme Court ruling upholding the gender-specific committee positions.

"This is a clear victory for logic and good taste," said state Republican Party spokesman Paul Sloca. "A committeeman is a committeeman and a committeewoman is a committeewoman, and obviously those are two distinct titles -- a man and a woman."

State Democratic Party spokesman Jim Gardner said there are advantages to requiring men and women to run separately for political leadership spots.

"It is a system that has worked very well as far as maintaining some diversity within the committee structure and enabling the election of a governing board that is more representative of the state as a whole," Gardner said.

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