New effort is launched to repeal Missouri's judicial-selection system
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 8, 2009 - Secretary of State Robin Carnahan's office announced today that it has OKed for circulation a new initiative petition to repeal Missouri's nonpartisan court plan for the selection of judges in urban areas and on the state's highest courts.
The petition seeks to put the repeal on next year's ballot. Supporters have until May 2 to collect the needed signatures from registered voters. They will need to collect 8 percent of the total votes cast in the 2008 governor's election from six of the state's nine congressional districts -- between 146,907 and 159,359 signatures, depending on the congressional districts selected.
Instead of the current plan, the petition calls for judges to be appointed by the governor and approved by the state Senate.
Under the current system, in place since the 1940s, governors choose judges from a three-candidate panel selected by a commission made up of members of the Missouri Bar and people appointed by the governor.
Critics of the current system contend that it gives too much power to the bar and has led to too many liberal judges named to Missouri courts. The bar and its allies, including current Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, disagree.
The repeal had been sought by former Gov. Matt Blunt and some of his Republican allies. The repeal petition was submitted by James Harris, a former Blunt aide, who now heads a group called "Better Courts for Missouri."
Said Harris in a statement: “For several years, lawmakers have attempted to update the process only to have lobbyists from the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys block the effort. It is a fact that MATA, its board of governors, and its executive officers contributed over $3.1 million to politicians in the last election cycle, 86% of which went to Democrats who by and large opposed judicial selection reform. MATA clearly wants to retain power over the current process – if this isn’t a pay to play scheme, I don’t know what is..."
Here's the ballot wording, as approved by Carnahan:
"Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to repeal the current nonpartisan court plan for the selection of judges of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and courts in St. Louis city and Jackson, Platte, Clay, St. Louis, and Greene counties and to create a new method of selecting such judges through appointment by the governor with advice and consent of the Missouri Senate?
"It is estimated this proposal will have annual costs of $121,802 - $129,543 and one-time costs of $5,660 to state governmental entities. It is estimated this proposal will have no costs or savings to local governmental entities."