MISSOURI BALLOT INITIATIVE • Constitutional Amendment 3
By Christine Roto/For The Richmond News
On Nov. 6, Missouri voters will have the option to amend the way Missouri judges are selected.
The Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan has been in place for more than 70 years as a way to eliminate partisanship in the selection of judges in the state. The intent of the plan is to have judges selected based on merit instead of political affiliation.
The plan is used to select judges for the Supreme Court and Appeals Court. It initially applied to courts in St. Louis City and Jackson City. Presently, Greene, St. Louis, Clay and Platte Counties have also adopted similar variations of the plan.
The current system removes appellate level judges from having to seek election in partisan elections. For state appeals judges, they are selected from a panel of nominees compiled of three governor appointees, three lawyers selected by the Missouri Bar Association and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
“The original Constitution had the proper checks, and currently there is no check on the judicial branch of government as far as how we choose judges to the highest court,” said Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County. “The Missouri Plan is currently controlled by one special interest group: the trial attorneys.”
Lembke sponsored the amendment when it was before the General Assembly.
The amendment eliminates the Chief Justice from the panel and allows the governor four appointees to the commission instead of three, which would make his appointees the majority.
Lynn Whaley Vogel, the president of the Missouri Bar, said the governor would essentially control the court through power of all the controlling votes in the commission.
“Before you change the constitution, you should be able to have a really good and valid reason, and be able to show the citizens that it doesn’t work,” Vogel said. “And nobody that proposed this amendment has demonstrated that the current court plan doesn’t work.”
Vogel said the proposed amendment directly injects partisan politics into a system that has been as free from politics as possible for the past 70 years.