Missouri Supreme Court Lays Waste to the Constitutional Amendment Guaranteeing the Right to Farm

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..

Constitutional Amendment

Constitutional Amendment

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. KanderAs 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.

Go to General Assembly

Go to Legislature

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.

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