Former Judges, Others Defend Missouri Merit Selection

Defenders of Missouri’s nationally recognized merit selection plan for choosing judges have unveiled a campaign to defeat proposed changes when voters go to the polls this fall.

The proposed constitutional amendment would insert politics into choosing appellate judges and give too much influence to the governor, critics of the plan said. They include former judges, state Bar leaders and business and community representatives, according to an Associated Press article.

“Every Missourian deserves to have a fair and level playing field when they walk into a Missouri court room,” retired state Supreme Court Judge William Ray Price (photo) told reporters in a conference call. “They don’t deserve to enter a courtroom that has been influenced by politics and money,” he said, according to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch report.

Judge Price, who was a Republican appointee, is among six former state Supreme Court judges sharing in leadership of the Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts Committee.

Under the proposal, the governor would get more influence over choosing members of a judicial nominating commission that screens candidates for the state Supreme Court and the state Court of Appeals.  In addition, a state Supreme Court judge would be removed from a voting position on the commission and replaced by a nonvoting former appellate judge.

If voters agreed, the governor would get to make an additional, fourth, appointment to the commission. The number of finalists recommended by the commission to a governor for a judgeship would increase from three to four.

A group called Better Courts for Missouri is pushing for the changes. A spokesman for the group, Rich Chrismer, said that “the special interests which control the judicial selection process are using misleading language in an attempt to prevent Missourians from having an accurate picture of the reforms they are voting on.”

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