ST. LOUIS, MO (KPLR) - "People with power and money are trying to buy the Missouri judiciary and we really should stop it." That's the belief of retired Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Ray Price. He and other retired justices have joined efforts to fight Amendment 3 on the November ballot.
But Missouri State Rep. Stanley Cox (R) Sedalia favors a change to the state's constitution that he says would make the governor accountable for the process of selecting the state's Supreme and Appellate Court judges.
Cox calls the ballot proposal a "minor" change in how potential judges would be nominated. Price insists special interest groups are trying to get control of the system.
Missouri currently operates under a non-partisan nomination plan known as the "Missouri Plan" that has served as a model for thirty other states since voters put it in the state constitution seventy years ago.
"The new proposal would give all the power to the governor. It removes the checks and balances so the governor would be able to control both who's nominated and then who he appoints," Price said. He predicted, "There would be significant attempts to influence the governor with campaign contributions so that those people could influence who would be picked as judges."
Currently seven people serve on the Appellate Judicial Commission on rotating six year terms. Three are lawyers elected to serve by members of the state-wide Missouri Bar Association one from each of the three appellate court districts. The governor appoints three non-lawyers from the three districts and a member of the Missouri Supreme Court serves as the seventh person.
Persons interested in filling a vacancy on the Missouri Supreme Court or one of the three Court of Appeals apply and are interviewed by the commission in a public session. The commissioners present three nominees to the governor who selects the new judge.
Amendment 3 would remove the Supreme Court judge from the panel and give the governor authority to select the seventh member. It would also remove the requirement that three be non-lawyers.
Cox complains four lawyers (including the judge) now control the nominating process. "It is controlled by the Missouri Bar and I don't understand why lawyers should control the system. I think the choice of this commission should be assigned to an elected public official who can be held responsible and is accountable to the voters right now, no one is accountable," said Cox.
Price disagreed saying lawyers are not of one mind and the high court justice on the panel brings a different perspective to the panel.
A television commercial against Amendment 3 is running across the state. It warns voters the amendment’s backers: "don't like non-partisan courts they can't control. Amendment Three gives politicians the power to pick our judges."
Supporters of Amendment Three failed to write their own ballot description for the measure but then challenged in court the version prepared by Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. Carnahan's language was upheld and will appear on the ballot. (See below)
The supporters decided not to spend money promoting Amendment Three since they did not like the ballot description.
Constitutional Amendment 3
[Proposed by the 96th General Assembly (Second Regular Session) SJR 51]
Official Ballot Title:
Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to change the current nonpartisan selection of supreme court and court of appeals judges to a process that gives the governor increased authority to:
•appoint a majority of the commission that selects these court nominees; and
•appoint all lawyers to the commission by removing the requirement that the governor's appointees be non-lawyers?
There are no estimated costs or savings expected if this proposal is approved by voters.
Fair Ballot Language:
A 'yes' vote will amend the Missouri Constitution to change the current nonpartisan selection of Supreme Court and court of appeals judges to a process that gives the governor increased authority to appoint a majority of the commission that selects these court nominees. This measure also allows the governor to appoint all lawyers to the commission by removing the requirement that the governor's appointees be non-lawyers.
A 'no' vote will not change the current constitutional provisions for the nonpartisan selection of Supreme Court and court of appeals judges.
If passed, this measure will have no impact on taxes.
For the full text go to: http://www.senate.mo.gov/12info/pdf-bill/tat/SJR51.pdf