Defenders of the state’s nationally recognized Missouri Plan for selecting judges contend the changes would destroy the merit selection plan, while supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment portray it as a modest tweaking of the system, according to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article.
Lynn Whaley Vogel, president of the Missouri Bar, recently warned that the proposal would politicize the courts and hand future governors an ability to control a judicial nominating commission by picking most of its members (see Gavel Grab). The Senate already has voted favorably on the proposal.
Under current law, Missouri’s governor appoints members of the state Supreme Court and the state Court of Appeals from finalists recommended by the screening commission. The panel has one Supreme Court judge, three lawyers, and three non-lawyers, the latter three members picked by the governor.
Under the proposal, the governor would appoint four members to the commission, and the Supreme Court judge would be removed from a voting position. The governor’s more influential role also would include naming two commissioners right after he takes office and two more midway through his four-year term. The governor’s appointees could be lawyers or non-lawyers.
In addition, slates of candidates recommended by the commission would be made up of four individuals, instead of three.
Some Republican lawmakers and interest groups have protested in recent years that lawyers have gotten too much influence in the process, and that accountability to the public is inadequate. The constitutional amendment was described by its backers as a compromise that would provide someone for voters to hold accountable, while diluting lawyers’ influence.
But Democratic Rep. Rory Ellinger lambasted it as “the most radical proposal that we’ve heard all year. We have no problem to solve here. The present system works. This is not reform. It is radical destruction of the judiciary.”
In 2010, critics of Missouri’s merit system failed to get enough valid signatures to put an initiative petition for repealing it before voters.