Protect Our Nonpartisan Courts - The Missourian: Letters To The Editor

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Protect Our Nonpartisan Courts

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Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 5:00 pm

In 1940, the people of Missouri adopted “The Missouri Plan” to take judicial selection out of the control of corrupt politicians. Now, 70 years later, big money contributors and special interests are trying to recapture Missouri courts by changing the way judges are selected. Proposed Amendment 3 to the Missouri Constitution is a bad idea that should be defeated.

Prior to 1940 Missouri selected all of its judges in partisan elections. Political bosses controlled the process and controlled the courts. The leader of this effort was the infamous Tom Pendergast from Kansas City. In 1937, men and women from across Missouri came together to restore justice to our courts. They created the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan, enacted by a vote of the people in 1940, to remove the courts from the control of partisan political bosses.

The plan established a seven-member commission that selects a panel of the three best candidates for any appellate vacancy. The governor appoints the new judge from that panel. The commission is made up of three lawyers, elected by lawyers; three citizens, appointed by the governor; and the chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court. After the governor appoints the new judge, the judge must stand for a retention election before the voters of Missouri. The plan provides multiple levels of checks and balances: the lawyers; the non-lawyers; the governor; and ultimately the people, in order to get the best and the fairest judges.

Sadly, that is exactly what the big contributors and special interests don’t want. They are used to making big contributions, to influence politicians, to get their way. They want to do that with judges too! The evidence is clear and shocking.

Judicial campaign contributions surged from $83.3 million in the period from 1990-1999, to $206.9 million from 2000-2009. Even more shocking, most of this money comes from a very few big spenders. A study of 29 elections in the nation’s 10 most costly states showed that the top five spenders in each race contributed an average of $473,000, while the remaining 116,000 contributors averaged just $850 each.

A Harris Poll released in 2010 found that over 70 percent of Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, believed that campaign contributions have a significant impact on courtroom decisions. Big money in judicial selection is a scandal!

Now those big contributors want to buy the Missouri courts. They want to change the Missouri Plan to eliminate the checks and balances and to give total control to the governor, so they can focus their contributions on one political office to influence who can become a judge. In everyday words, they want “one stop shopping.”

Missouri needs judges who will keep a level playing field in our courts, for all of us. Lawsuits need to be determined on the basis of facts and law, not because of who made the biggest contribution to the governor. We must protect the fairness and impartiality of our judges.

Please join me in protecting our nonpartisan courts. Vote No on Amendment 3.

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Editor’s Note: William Ray Price, Jr., is a former Missouri Supreme Court judge and now is a partner in Armstrong Teasdale, LLP.

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