VOTERS GUIDE: Amendment 3 could alter judicial selection committee

Wednesday, October 31, 2012 | 4:13 p.m. CDT

Missouri voters will be asked Nov. 6 to decide whether to give the governor more influence in the appointment of Missouri Court of Appeals and Supreme Court judges.

Ballot language: Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to change the current nonpartisan selection of supreme court and court of appeals judges to a process that gives the governor increased authority to:

  • appoint a majority of the commission that selects these court nominees;
  • and appoint all lawyers to the commission by removing the requirement that the governor's appointees be nonlawyers?

There are no estimated costs or savings expected if this proposal is approved by voters.

What does this mean? Missouri voters will decide whether to give the governor more influence in the appointment of Missouri Court of Appeals and Supreme Court judges.

The amendment would allow the governor to appoint four of the seven members to the Appellate Judicial Commission within one four-year term.

The governor now appoints one commissioner every two years. Under Amendment 3, the Appellate Judicial Commission would still exist, but the governor would gain control over the appointment of a commission majority. The governor could appoint two commissioners to the Appellate Judicial Commission as soon as his or her four-year term begins. The governor could then appoint two more commissioners midway through his or her term, giving the governor the right to appoint four of the commission's seven members within a first term.

What are the arguments for this? State Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, has sought to change the judicial selection process for the past seven years. Lembke calls the amendment a "modest proposal."

"It will allow the people to hold someone responsible for who the judges are in the highest levels of our state," Lembke said. "With these changes, they can point to the governor and say: 'You're responsible for putting four of these people on the commission.'"

Members of Better Courts for Missouri have suspended campaigning for the amendment. James Harris, executive director of the group, said that's because the ballot language is unclear and misleading. Better Courts for Missouri filed a lawsuit challenging the ballot's wording, but it was upheld by the courts.

"It allowed assumptions to be made that the commission could be all lawyers," Harris said. "Now we've decided to regroup and move forward after the election."

What are the arguments against this? Skip Walther, a Columbia attorney and treasurer of Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts, said the amendment could allow campaign contributions to politicize the selection of judges.

"The guy who contributed the money to the governor's campaign then might tell him who to nominate," Walther said. "It turns our nonpartisan process into a circus under control of the governor. That's not what it was originally designed for."

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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