LETTER: Resolution would diminish judiciary independence

Monday, April 13, 2009 | 10:49 a.m. CDT

There is a movement among some who serve in the Missouri legislature to alter the Nonpartisan Court Plan by which judges are selected. House Joint Resolution 10, which passed out of the House last week on its way to the Senate, seeks to cripple the independence of the judiciary by conveying a disproportionate amount of political power to the office of the governor.

The resolution's proposed method of allowing a sitting governor to reject panels is in direct opposition to a 1976 voter-approved amendment to Missouri’s Constitution, which prevents a power grab from a sitting governor.

Currently, a judicial commission screens applicants and selects a panel of three nominees from which the governor may choose. This commission is balanced with laypersons who measure applicants’ personal characteristics and civic experience and attorneys who evaluate them on their professional depth and legal analysis skills.

Approved by the voters in 1940 to replace the corrupt election of judges across the state, the plan was put in place to keep judges from being chosen based solely on political party affiliations. Instead, they are chosen based on merit, then retained by voter approval.

The value of the Nonpartisan Court Plan is evident in the history and current status of Missouri’s judiciary. Absent any proof that corruption exists on any level in the state judicial system since the adoption of the Nonpartisan Court Plan, the House Joint Resolution 10 appears to be purely political and a thinly-veiled attempt to control our judiciary – the branch of government which does the most to protect Missouri’s citizens.

We have every hope that the Missouri Senate demonstrates a higher level of respect for maintaining the independence of the judiciary and the protections it offers to the citizens of Missouri.

Martin J. Buckley is the president of the Missouri Organization of Defense Lawyers. H. Lynn Henry is the president of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys.

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