In the last days before Nov. 6, reports by Justice at Stake and its partner groups on rising judicial election spending are providing a valuable resource for daily news media reporting and commentary.
“The deep-pockets donors haven’t bought anything; they’ve gambled. Our hope and expectation is that, at some point or points, the winner of this race will prove to be a bitter disappointment to those who wagered most heavily on his campaign,” the editorial said.
The editorial cited a spending analysis last week by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice. The analysis showed judicial election spending so far this year exceeding the 2010 total, and outside spending in the North Carolina court race exceeding that of candidates.
A St. Louis (Mo.) Post-Dispatch article, meanwhile, focused on controversy over a ballot item that would change the way judges are selected under a merit-based system in Missouri (see Gavel Grab for more.) Read more
Opponents of a Nov. 6 ballot measure to change the way top judges are chosen in Missouri have begun airing a TV ad urging, “Keep politics out of Missouri’s courtrooms.”
The Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts Committee launched the ad, according to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article.
The proposed amendment would change the way judges are appointed, giving the governor a greater hand in the judicial selection commissions and more power over judicial appointments in general.
In the TV ad, a narrator says that Missouri’s existing judicial selection plan, which combines appointments with retention (yes-or-no) elections, has served as a national model and has preserved fair and impartial courts.
However, “special interests want to change Missouri’s constitution and tip our scales of justice,” the narrator says. “They’re pushing Amendment 3 because they don’t like nonpartisan courts they can’t control.” Read more
Since 1940, Missourians have benefited from what is known as the Missouri Plan for selecting judges, but Amendment 3 could unnecessarily change the selection process for the worse, a Joplin Globe editorial argues.
If voters pass Amendment 3 on November 6, the selection process for appointing Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges would be drastically altered, the editorial says.
It would modify the makeup of the Appellate Judicial Commission by eliminating the chief justice as a member, and allowing the governor to appoint four members who could be lawyers. The commission would also present four nominees instead of three to the governor.
Most of the efforts to change the Missouri Plan have largely been funded through out-of-state groups, the editorial says. Attempts have been made to change the selection plan since 2002. Read more
The opposing views of two groups on Missouri Amendment 3 are highlighted in a Columbia Daily Tribune article.
James Harris is the executive director of Better Courts for Missouri, the group that until recently focused its energies on promoting Amendment 3. Though the group recently announced it will no longer promote the Amendment, Harris says the group is “not going away until meaningful reform is achieved.”
Harris says that under the current system, politics and money have taken over the judicial selection process and there is no way to hold the selection commission responsible. Giving the governor the majority of appointees on the selection panel grants him or her the ability to hand-pick qualified judges and creates a way for the people to hold the governor accountable, Harris argues.
“The governor will have to face re-election and stand by those elections,” Harris says. Read more
A Kansas City Star editorial urged voters to “retain well-qualified [statewide and local] judges” in Kansas and Missouri on November 6th.
As part of Missouri’s retention election, its bar association will post online judicial performance evaluations. The evaluations survey lawyers and jurors who are knowledgeable of a judge’s skills, conduct and decisions.
Once the evaluations are collected, a committee then recommends which judges should be up for a retention election. Those recommendations are posted in print and online.
In contrast to Missouri, budget cuts have prevented Kansas from posting evaluations online. The Star explained that “[t]he Kansas Commission on Judicial Performance unfortunately has not received funding for two years.”
The Kansas City Star in response, has urged funding for the Commission to resume, or for the state of Kansas to refund those surveys.
The Star continued by mentioning judges who scored high on evaluations and who voters should retain.
Some examples of highly rated judges in Missouri include, Supreme Court Judge George W. Draper III; western district Court of Appeals Judges Thomas H. Newton, Gary D. Witt and Cynthia L. Martin; and circuit court judges in Jackson, Clay and Platte counties.
Despite the limited information on judicial performances available to Kansas voters, the Star recommended Supreme Court Justice Nancy L. Moritz, along with court of appeals, district courts and magistrate judges to be retained. Those judges also scored well on their evaluations.
Missouri voters “should reject Amendment 3 and let the Nonpartisan Court Plan be,” asserted Mike Dandino, retired chief legal adviser for the Missouri Office of Public Counsel, in a St. Charles County Suburban Journal op-ed.
Amendment 3 would “magnify the role of big money” in judicial elections, give the governor control over the commission by giving him the ability to appoint the majority of its members and remove the assured role of the general public in the selection process, says Dandino. Most importantly, Amendment 3 would disrupt the “well-balanced process” of judicial selection.
“Constitutional Amendment 3 would reintroduce party politics and patronage into the judicial selection process that brought integrity and independence to the courts,” Dandino states. Read more
Current Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and his challenger, Dave Spence, have both come out in opposition of the proposed Missouri Amendment 3, according to an Associated Press article.
The proposed amendment would change the way judges are appointed, giving the governor a greater hand in the judicial selection commissions and more power over judicial appointments in general. Both Nixon, a Democrat, and Spence, a Republican, have refused to back the measure. They have opted instead to keep the current system for appointing judges, known as the Missouri Plan.
“I think it puts too much power in the governor,” Spence said of the plan proposed under Amendment 3. “The Missouri Plan really was a model for other states — I’m fine with just leaving it as is.”
The changes to Missouri’s judicial selection system proposed by Amendment 3 would give the governor more power over the process and bring partisan politics into a fair, impartial system, asserts an op-ed by a League of Women Voters member published in the St. Louis American.
The current judicial selection system, called the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan, has served as a model judicial selection system for over 30 states and has been supported by the League of Women Voters since its inception in 1940. The League of Women Voters is a JAS partner group.
According to the op-ed by Sydell Shayer, the Non-Partisan Court Plan eliminates the influence of campaign money “and candidates for judgeships no longer need to spend time fundraising or campaigning.” Read more
This November, citizens of Missouri will be asked to vote on Constitutional Amendment 3, which proposes changes to the 70 year old Missouri Non-Partisan Court plan, according to a Vandalia Leader article.
Currently, Missouri selects state appellate judges and Supreme Court justices through a merit selection system called the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan. With this plan, state appeals judges are appointed by the Governor from a list of finalists selected by a seven-member nominating commission: three non-lawyers chosen by the governor, three lawyers selected by the Missouri Bar Association, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Amendment 3 would remove the Chief Justice from the nomination panel and give the governor the authority to appoint four nominees to the commission rather than three. The amendment would also change the term limits of commissioners to four years for all members and remove the requirement that the governor’s appointees be non-lawyers.
President of the Missouri Bar, Lynn Whaley Vogel, says the amendment would push partisan politics into the judicial selection system and give the governor control over the court.
A ballot item to give Missouri’s governor more influence over picking top judges is a “bad idea” that warrants rejection in November from voters, and “they should remain vigilant for even worse measures to come,” a Kansas City Star editorial urged.
The “Missouri Plan” for selecting top judges, as the state’s merit selection system is called, is nationally recognized and has provided a model for many other states. Critics of the plan, from both inside and outside the state, have launched attacks on it for a decade.
Under the proposal, the governor would be able to appoint four members to a judicial screening commission instead of three, and the panel would submit names of four recommended nominees to the governor. A Supreme Court judge would no longer be a voting member of the panel. And the ballot item would have the governor make all of his commission appointments at the beginning of his or her term.
“That means the governor would control the majority of the nominating commission for an entire term,” the editorial cautioned. “And while monied interests couldn’t buy a judge, they could potentially dictate to a governor who should be on the commission, in the expectation of seating judges of a particular mindset.” Read more