LETTER: Let's keep the politics out of the way Missouri chooses judges

Wednesday, April 8, 2009 | 4:11 p.m. CDT

If there is a lesson to be learned from the current economic crisis, it is that we can either pay attention to what our government is doing or we will pay the price for not paying attention. In Jefferson City, our state legislators are considering House Joint Resolution 10, which is a proposal that is not receiving much attention. HJR 10 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would change everything about Missouri’s renowned Non-Partisan Court Plan except its name.

I am proud that our state is the birthplace of the Non-Partisan Court Plan, the first merit-based judicial selection system in the country. Also known as the “Missouri Plan,” this system has succeeded in giving us a fair and impartial justice system for almost three-quarters of a century.

HJR 10 can be summed up in five words: a lot of bad ideas. It would help destroy the barriers that have protected our courts from partisan politics and special interest money. Missourians abandoned the notion of giving legislators a voice in judicial selection more than 150 years ago, but HJR 10 would take us back to the mid 19th century and give the legislature control over our judges. Partisan politics would dominate our judiciary if HJR 10 becomes law.

Missouri can boast about its outstanding judges; we have one of the most well respected judiciaries in the United States, in large part because we select our judges based on merit. Allowing politicians to meddle in this system would be a mistake.

As a country, we were looking the other way while officials dismantled the regulations that kept our finance system safe from the excesses of greed and power. HJR 10 would dismantle a system that keeps our courts free from the excesses of politics and special interest money. I urge Missourians to let their state legislators know that our method of selecting judges isn’t broken and doesn’t need the kind of political fix that HJR 10 would give it.

Tom Burke is president, and Skip Walther is president-elect of The Missouri Bar.

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