Ballot Issues for November 6, 2012 – Amend 3

We have been doing a series focusing on Proposition A which returns local control of the St Louis City Police Department to the citizens of St Louis City. The focus is necessary to counter misinformation about the proposition. We will come back and do a wrap on it soon. Today we will begin a series about the other issues on the ballot.

A number of ballot issues will be presented to voters when they go to the polls on November 6th. Our blog presented an early look at the issues as evaluated by the good folks at Missouri Family Network. Their analysis and recommendations can be viewed here. Today, we discuss Amendment 3.

Amendment 3 is a constitutional amendment that makes some very small adjustments to the way primarily Appellate and Supreme Court judges are selected in Missouri although some circuit judges are also subject to the process. Since 1945, Missouri has operated under what is commonly known as the non-partisan court plan or more commonly as the Missouri Plan. The Missouri Plan has been replicated with changes in a number of states. However, it has flaws and in recent decades, has been co-opted by trial attorneys.

It’s not accurate for defenders of the Missouri Plan to claim it’s so popular that several states have used it as a pattern for their own applications. As mentioned earlier, no state has implemented THE Missouri Plan. All have made significant changes.  The Missouri Plan has flaws and needs to be improved.

The Missouri Plan results in the appointment of higher court judges (State Supreme Court and Appeals Court judges) and Circuit Court judges in St Louis City, County and Greene County. All other circuit court judges, including associate circuit judge positions are elected by the people of the circuit.  As a result, those appointed never stand for election but do stand for retention. Confusion and frustration are the result and little to no real knowledge is made available about judges up for a retention vote.

How are these judges selected? A non-elected judicial commission reviews applicants for the open position and makes three recommendations to the Governor. The Governor has to choose one of the three.  Once appointed judges serve on the bench, they face an initial retention vote at the next general election and then for every few years depending on the level. For example, after the initial retention vote, Supreme Court Justices are only subject to a retention vote every twelve years.

Unfortunately, since there is no campaigns waged regarding retention, the only information people have to decide to retain is lawyer and in limited cases, juror evaluations. This results in what I call lawyers having judges but what about the people? If my memory serves me correctly, there may have been one judge who has not been retained since the plan started.

The Missouri Bar Association, and the trial lawyers in particular, control the process behind the scenes to elevate their own selections without approval from or accountability to the voters.  Until recently, the judicial commission process was not open to public scrutiny. Even now, more could be done to improve that situation.

So what does Amendment 3 do? It seeks to realign the appointments and tenure of members of the judicial commission to coincide with the sitting Governor.  Before, Governor’s could always claim their choices were limited by a judicial commission they did not appoint. That excuse is removed.

The Governor also now is responsible for choosing the majority of commission members and the amendment expands the number of choices of finalists for the Governor to choose.  Now instead of three the Governor would have four finalists to choose from to serve. It’s still a take it or leave it panel but it’s a small step.

United for Missouri recommends a YES vote on Amendment 3 and we encourage the legislature to consider more in-depth changes to this process.

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Carl Bearden
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One Response to “Ballot Issues for November 6, 2012 – Amend 3”

  1. [...] YES on Amendment 3 – Judicial Reform This is probably one of the most misunderstood measures on the ballot. Missouri’s judicial selction process needs some changes. Amendment 3 doesn’t go far enough but it is an improvement over the existing process controlled by the trial bar. Unfortunately the Secretary of State’s ballot language is misleading and confuses many. It’s my hope enough people vote YES on Amendment 3 to indicate to the legislature that judicial reform is important even if Amendment 3 is not the reform they want. [...]

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