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Missouri Supreme Court hears case on conflict between auditor, attorney general

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(The Center Square) – Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey was accused of a “coup” against Missouri’s citizens during arguments before the state Supreme Court in a case regarding his authority over approving ballot initiatives.

Bailey appealed a ruling by Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem in June. Beetem gave Bailey 24 hours to approve fiscal note summaries for 11 petitions for signatures to get an abortion rights constitutional amendment on the ballot. The cost estimates were approved by Republican Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick in March.

Attorney Anthony Rothert, representing plaintiff Dr. Anna Fitz-James, stated Bailey was the first attorney general to ever return for revision any fiscal note in the history of the process.

“The Attorney General’s actions here represent the most serious threat to direct democracy that has ever happened in Missouri,” Rothert said during arguments. “It’s not an understatement to say that he’s trying to carry out a coup against the people of Missouri, taking away their authority to change the law by initiative, by using the statutes that are there to stall, stall and stall. It’s working, too. Because even if this court would end here and put down his current effort to displace the people’s authority onto himself, he has succeeded in pausing the way and delaying.”

Jason Lewis, chief counsel for government affairs in Bailey’s office, argued Fitzpatrick failed to act on Bailey’s findings.

“It is clear from the submissions that they are based on wildly misleading and nonsensical methodologies,” Lewis said.

Bailey informed Fitzpatrick the financial information should include the possibility Missouri could lose up to $12.5 billion in federal Medicaid funding if the right to an abortion was restored. Lewis argued withholding that information violated the requirement for fiscal information to not be persuasive or lead to prejudicial view, therefore enhancing the position of those advancing the ballot initiative.

“By hiding an elephant in a mouse hole by not disclosing a potential impact of $12.5 billion, that is facially argumentative and prejudicial,” Lewis said.

Out of 60 state and local governments contacted by Fitzpatrick for cost estimates on the initiative, only Greene County provided an estimated impact of $51,000 and the anticipated abortion of approximately 135 future citizens.

“We think that the auditor could have, and should have, done more,” Lewis argued. “There’s certainly a floor in which the auditor can engage in a review of submissions. There’s also a ceiling. There’s a lot of room in between and the attorney general pointed out the several reasons why the state auditor did not even exercise his minimum obligations.”

Attorney Robert Tillman, representing Fitzpatrick, argued Bailey’s understanding of the process isn’t found in state law.

“The Attorney General’s interpretation … requires performing legal gymnastics and reading language into the statute that is simply not there and leads to a multitude of preposterous results,” Tillman said. “Simply stated, the trial court and the auditors reading of (the statute) makes sense where the attorney general’s interpretation just doesn’t.”

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