The hopes of the Missouri Farm Bureau, that the constitutional Amendment, guaranteeing the right to engage in farming and ranching, would be interpreted broadly were dashed by the Missouri Supreme Court in its recent decision in Shoemyer v. Kander. The Court’s statement in its opinion that “…no constitutional right is so broad as to prohibit all regulation” poured cold water over the Farm Bureau’s arguments. The Farm Bureau, presumed that the court’s would interpret the constitutional amendment to engage in farming and ranching similar to interpretations in the Missouri Bill of Rights regarding freedom of speech, religion and gun rights..
The Amendment added the following language to the constitution:
“That agriculture which provides food, energy, health benefits, and security is the foundation and stabilizing force of Missouri’s economy. To protect this vital sector of Missouri’s economy, the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state, subject to duly authorized powers, if any, conferred by Article VI of the Constitution of Missouri.”
The ballot title read:
“Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed?”
Adoption by the voters of the Amendment, in August 2014, set the stage, for the decision in Shoemyer v. Kander. As you can see the amendment, proposed by the Farm Bureau and the ballot title, were very vague. The Farm Bureau stated that the Amendment was intentionally vague, leaving open a question as to how it would be interpreted. The information provided by the Farm Bureau, supporting the Amendment, stated that the courts would have to define the meaning of the Amendment. The Farm Bureau further stated that the court would interpret the Amendment, like other provisions in the Missouri Bill of Rights, similar to freedom of religion, speech and the right to bear arms.I agreed with the Farm Bureau analysis, fortunately I was wrong.
In other words, the Farm Bureau did not want to get pinned down with controversial interpretations or intentions prior to the vote. The Missouri Supreme Court did not take the bait, but instead made it very clear that legislative bodies ( including state and local) retained broad authority to regulate. The phrase in the ballot title that the right “…to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed” did “…not imply that the right would be unlimited completely free from regulation, as no constitutional right is so broad as to prohibit all regulation.” In the world of wrestling, this would be called a “full body slam.” Despite the efforts of a Farm Bureau to limit government regulation, the court concluded that regulation is best thrashed out by elected representatives of the people. I agree.
The reference to Article VI of the Missouri Constitution, which pertains to the power of local government, made it clear that local government fully retained the power to regulate farming and ranching activities. The dirty little secret was that the Amendment made no reference to the power of the state legislature to prohibit certain farming and ranching activities thereby leaving open the question as to whether or not the state legislature retained this power. The Court stated that the Amendment was subject to existing provisions in the Missouri Constitution granting the General Assembly legislative authority.
One of the unintended consequences of the Amendment may be that the power to regulate farming and ranching by local government is now specifically enshrined in the Missouri Constitution. This could be interpreted, to limit the power of the General Assembly from prohibiting or otherwise limiting the power of cities and counties to regulate farming and ranching because of the specificity of the Amendment. After all, the Missouri Constitution now specifically grants to cities and counties the power to regulate farming and ranching. Whether or not the courts would apply such an interpretation is speculative, nevertheless, this interpretation comports with the plain language of the Amendment.
© 2015 Howard Wright
For additional information concerning the right to engage in farming and ranching see my earlier pre-election post relating to the Amendment. You may also find an earlier post dealing with large-scale industrial farming of interest as well as a post discussing acquisition of rights to farm while polluting another person’s property.