With only five weeks remaining until the general election, I want to take this opportunity to share information with voters about one of the four measures that will appear on their Nov. 6 ballot.
With only five weeks remaining until the general election, I want to take this opportunity to share information with voters about one of the four measures that will appear on their Nov. 6 ballot. I will discuss the other three in later columns, but this week, I want to take a closer look at Constitutional Amendment Three. Amendment Three is a ballot question that deals with judicial reform, commonly referred to as the Missouri Judicial Appointment Amendment.
During the regular legislative session, Senate Joint Resolution 51 (SJR 51) was introduced and passed by both the Missouri Senate and House. This is a legislatively referred constitutional amendment, meaning it is a piece of legislation that was passed by the House and the Senate with the intent that it be placed on the November ballot. If approved by voters, SJR 51 would change how individuals are appointed to the Appellate Judicial Commission. This commission is responsible for selecting nominees for the Court of Appeals and the Missouri Supreme Court.
Official ballot language for Constitutional Amendment Three will appear as follows:
“Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to change the current non-partisan 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 non-lawyers?
There are no estimated costs or savings expected if this proposal is approved by voters.
For those of you who are wondering what a “yes” or a “no” vote means, let me explain. A “yes” vote will amend the Missouri Constitution to change the current non-partisan selection of Supreme Court and Appellate Court judges to a process that gives the governor increased authority to appoint a majority of the commission that selects these court nominees. This measure also allows all the governor’s appointees to the commission to be lawyers, as it will remove the requirement that the governor’s appointees be non-lawyers.
A “no” vote will mean no change in the current constitutional provisions for the non-partisan selection of Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges.
Voters amended the Missouri Constitution in November of 1940 by adopting the Missouri Plan that was placed on the ballot by initiative petition. The adoption of this plan was the result of a public backlash against several contentious judicial elections influenced by the political machine of “Boss Tom” Pendergast of Kansas City and the politically controlled ward bosses of St. Louis. The Missouri Plan has served as a national model for the selection of judges by more than 30 states and was designed to select judges on merit rather than on political affiliation.
Within the structure of the Missouri Plan, the Appellate Judicial Commission is made up of the Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, three lawyers who are elected by members of the Missouri Bar, and three non-lawyers who are appointed by the governor. When a judicial vacancy occurs, this commission takes applications and usually selects three nominees from which the governor will choose one. The governor has 60 days in which to make his selection. If he does not do so in the 60-day time period, then the commission will select one.
Under the proposed amendment changes, lawyers will continue to elect three commissioners, but the governor, in his or her first term and immediately upon taking office, will assume a much larger role in appointing two commissioners. Two additional members will also be appointed midway through the governor’s first term in office. By the time the governor is in his or her third and fourth years of the first term, a majority of this commission will have already been selected.
Also under the proposal, the constitution will no longer prohibit the commission appointees from being lawyers. Perhaps most important, however, is the fact that the Supreme Court would lose its voting position on the commission. The amendment would replace the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court with another gubernatorial appointee, giving laypersons on the commission a four to three advantage. It would also allow a newly elected governor to select commission appointees during his or her first term in office, thus giving the governor more influence over the commission’s selections of judicial nominees.
For years various civil and political groups — especially the group Better Courts for Missouri — have pushed for Alternatives to the Missouri Plan, though the Missouri Bar Association is against the proposed changes.
If I can be of assistance on state matters, please do not hesitate to call my office. Contact information follows.
Mail: Bill Reiboldt, Office 235-BB, State Capitol, 201 W. Capitol, Jefferson City, MO 65101. Telephone: (573) 751-9781. Personal cell phone: 417-456-0441. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill Reiboldt represents the people of Southwest Missouri in the Missouri House of Representatives.