Better Courts for Missouri
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Better Courts for Missouri is dedicated to the reform of the state's appellate judicial selection process, known as the Missouri Plan or the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan. Better Courts for Missouri feels that special interest groups and liberal trial attorneys have been allowed to have too much influence in the committee which selects nominees for judicial appointments, resulting in the nomination of judges for political reasons, something which the Missouri Plan was meant to avoid.
In order to improve the Missouri Plan, Better Courts for Missouri advocates the introduction of openness to the nominating committee's proceedings, allowing the citizens of the state to see what goes on behind the currently closed doors of the nominating committee. By opening the proceedings, it is hoped that corruption will be eliminated and the sway that special interest groups currently hold on member of the nominating commission will be reduced.
Increased accountability to the people is something else which Better Courts for Missouri advocates, as the organization believes the current system lacks accountability and allows committee members to bring their personal politics to the process without fear of reprisal should the voters not approve of their actions. Better Courts for Missouri believes that introducing accountability will help to make the system more responsive to the needs of Missourians while eliminating the role of special interests and personal politics in the judicial nominating process.
Better Courts for Missouri also advocates the return of independence to the judicial branch. One of the organization's primary objections to the current iteration of the Missouri Plan is that it allows the Chief Justice and three members of the Missouri Bar to have a role in nominating the panel of potential judges that the governor is allowed to choose from. Better Courts for Missouri holds a philosophy similar to Missouri Supreme Court Judge Warren Welliver, who said, "Reduced to the plainest terms, judges have no right to pick their successors or colleagues and lawyers have no right to pick their judges."
The return of merit selection to a process that was meant to operate on merit selection is another goal of Better Courts for Missouri. It is the organization's position that the current lack of transparency in the nominating process, coupled with the corrupting influence of special interests and lawyers picking the judges who will hear their cases, has eliminated the role of merit in selecting judges. As evidence of the elimination of merit as the prevailing factor in nominating appellate judges, Better Courts for Missouri points out that one of the 2007 judicial nominees, a Democrat, had the lowest Missouri Bar rating of any appellate or Supreme Court judge. They also point out an incident in 1985 in which a Republican governor selected his 33-year-old Chief of Staff to serve on the state Supreme Court after convincing the nominating commission to place him on the panel, despite the fact that the Chief of Staff had no prior judicial experience. Better Courts for Missouri posits that only by eliminating harmful, unaccountable influence can the state be assured that judges are being picked based solely on judicial aptitude rather than on personal or political grounds.
On July 13, 2009, Better Courts for Missouri announced that it would seek an initiative petition to replace the "Missouri Plan" method of filling judicial vacancies with a model based on the federal system. The system proposed by the initiative would allow the governor to nominate judges, who would then be subject to Senate confirmation.
2009 Missouri HJR 10
For the latest legislative history on Missouri HJR 10 CLICK HERE
Introduction and Text of MO HJR 10
On January 7, 2009, the Missouri House of Representatives introduced HJR 10 in which proposes a constitutional amendment increasing the number of Governor-appointed citizens serving on the Missouri Appellate Judicial Commission and the number of candidates nominated for vacancies as a way to reform the Missouri Plan. This joint resolution would require a statewide referendum on the November 2, 2010 general election ballot in which would ask the voters of Missouri to affirm the current provisions or repeal on a no vote Article V, Sections 25(a), 25(d), and 25(e) of the Missouri State Constitution and replace it with the following:
Section 25(a). Whenever a vacancy shall occur in the office of judge of any of the following courts of this state, to wit: The supreme court, the court of appeals, or in the office of circuit or associate circuit judge within the city of St. Louis and Jackson County and any other judicial circuit outside of the city of St. Louis and Jackson County which has, in accordance with the provisions of section 25(b) of this article, elected to have their circuit and associate circuit judges appointed by the governor in the manner provided in section 25(a) of this article, the governor shall fill such vacancy by appointing one of [three] four persons possessing the qualifications for such office, who shall be nominated and whose names shall be submitted to the governor by a nonpartisan judicial commission established and organized as hereinafter provided. [If the governor fails to appoint any of the nominees within sixty days after the list of nominees is submitted, the nonpartisan judicial commission making the nomination shall appoint one of the nominees to fill the vacancy.] The governor may veto the first list of nominees submitted by notifying the commission of his or her objection within forty-five (45) days after the first list of nominees is submitted to the governor. The commission shall thereafter submit a new list of four nominees for the governor's consideration. If the governor fails to appoint any of the nominees from the second list within forty-five days after the second list of nominees is submitted, the nonpartisan judicial commission charged with submitting the nominations shall appoint one nominee from the second list of nominees to fill the vacancy.
Section 25(d). Nonpartisan judicial commissions whose duty it shall be to nominate and submit to the governor names of persons for appointment as provided by sections 25(a)-(g) are hereby established and shall be organized on the following basis: For vacancies in the office of judge of the supreme court or of the court of appeals, there shall be one such commission, to be known as "The (Missouri) Appellate Judicial Commission"; for vacancies in the office of circuit judge or associate circuit judge of any circuit court subject to the provisions of sections 25(a)-(g) there shall be one such commission, to be known as "The ...... Circuit Judicial Commission," for each judicial circuit which shall be subject to the provisions of sections 25(a)-(g); the appellate judicial commission shall consist of a judge of the supreme court selected by the members of the supreme court, and [the remaining members shall be] seven members chosen in the following manner: The members of the bar of this state residing in each court of appeals district shall elect one of their number to serve as a member of said commission, and the governor shall appoint one citizen, not a member of the bar, from among the residents of each court of appeals district, to serve as a member of said commission, and an additional citizen, from anywhere in the state and appointed on or after January 15, 2013, and the members of the commission shall select one of their number to serve as [chairman] chair. Every appointment to the appellate judicial commission shall be subject to the advice and consent of the majority of the senate, who shall confirm or reject such appointments within thirty (30) legislative days of appointment by the governor. Each circuit judicial commission shall consist of [five] six members, one of whom shall be the chief judge of the district of the court of appeals within which the judicial circuit of such commission, or the major portion of the population of said circuit is situated and the remaining [four] five members shall be chosen in the following manner: The members of the bar of this state residing in the judicial circuit of such commission shall elect two of their number to serve as members of said commission, and the governor shall appoint [two] three citizens, [not members of the bar,] from among the residents of said judicial circuit, two of whom shall not be members of the bar, to serve as members of said commission with the additional number appointed on or after January 15, 2013, and, the members of the commission shall select one of their number to serve as [chairman] chair; and the terms of office of the members of such commission shall be [fixed by law, but no law shall increase or diminish the term of any member then in office] four years expiring on January fifteenth of the fourth year, and each four-year term shall begin at the expiration of the term immediately preceding it. No law or court rule shall increase, diminish, or otherwise adjust the terms of any member. At the time of the adoption of this section, current terms of members of all such commissions shall expire and new members shall be selected in accordance with this section. Every appointment to a circuit judicial commission shall be subject to the advice and consent of the majority of the senate, who shall confirm or reject such appointments within thirty legislative days of appointment by the governor. No member of any such commission [other than a judge] shall hold any public office, and no member shall hold any official position in a political party. Every such commission may act only by the concurrence of a majority of its members. The members of such commission shall receive no salary or other compensation for their services but they shall receive their necessary traveling and other expenses incurred while actually engaged in the discharge of their official duties. All such commissions shall discharge their duties in accordance with the policy of promoting openness and public access. The list of applicants for any judicial vacancy shall be a public record and their names shall be posted on the supreme court's web site. All information available to such commissions in their proceedings shall be made available to the governor. All hearings, debates, and votes of the commission shall be open to the public and to the press, and such meetings shall be held on no less than seventy-two hours public notice. Every applicant nominated and whose names shall be submitted to the governor as provided in section 25(a) of this article shall be subject to a background check, including a criminal check, which shall not be a public record but shall be available to the commission and the governor. Sessions or communications not open to the public shall be limited to those areas relating to the interviews by the commission, internal deliberations of the commission concerning the final list of five qualified persons to be submitted to the governor, matters of national security, or allegations, not to include convictions, of criminal or morally reprehensible behavior. All such commissions shall be administered, and the procedures for all elections provided for under this section shall be held and regulated, under such rules as the [supreme court shall promulgate] commission shall establish so long as such rules are in accordance with the provisions of this article and not superseded by subsequently enacted legislation.
Section 25(e). All expenses incurred in administering sections 25(a)-(g), when approved by the [supreme court] commissioner of administration, shall be paid out of the state treasury. The [supreme court] commission shall certify such expense to the commissioner of administration, who shall draw his warrant therefor payable out of funds not otherwise appropriated.
Proposed benefits of MO HJR 10
Organizers for Better Courts for Missouri believe that by conducting meetings in the open and using the Missouri Sunshine Law will allow for greater transparency and accountability during the process of selecting appellate level judges in Missouri. Also, the new Missouri Plan will allow for any Governor to ask for a new list of three candidates if a Governor thinks if the Missouri Appellate Judicial Commission does not provide a Governor with the best list possible in which is not allowed under the current plan. It was during the 1970's when a Governor in Missouri had the authority to reject a list from the Missouri Appellate Judicial Commission and ask for a new list.
Also, the new plan asks for an additional citizen member to serve on the panel and will require that any lay member who gets appointed must face confirmation under the advice and consent of the Missouri State Senate. Judges under the new plan will not be allowed to serve on the commission like in some states like Nebraska and South Dakota in which allow judges to serve on the commission.
Legislative progress of MO HJR 10
After the bill was introduced in the Missouri House, HJR 10 was scheduled in front of the Missouri House Special Standing Committee on General Laws which was held on March 3, 2009. On April 8, 2009, HJR 10 passed the Missouri House on a 82-72 vote in which sent the bill to the Missouri State Senate. A day after the Missouri house voted to approve the joint resolution, it was introduced in the Missouri Senate and was referred to the Missouri State Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Fiscal Authority. A committee hearing was scheduled on April 23, 2009, and the bill was reported as "do pass." Although it was taken up for third reading on three occasions, the bill did not come to a vote before the Senate.
- Better Courts for Missouri homepage
- William J. Placke's Presentation for a General Laws Hearing on February 5th, 2008
- The Consequences of Judicial selection: A Review of the Supreme Court of Missouri, 1992-2007, by William G. Eckhardt and John Hilton
- Nationwide Judicial Merit Selection System, compiled by Better Courts for Missouri using data from the American Judicature Society - summarizes the "Missouri Plans" of other states
- About Us..., Better Courts for Missouri
- Merit Based Selections, Fiction and Facts, Better Courts for Missouri
- Drive Targets Judge Selection, Columbia Daily Tribune, Page A10, July 13, 2009
- "Missouri House of Representatives, Text of 2009 HJR 10, May 16, 2009
- "Better Courts for Missouri" Problems of Missouri and Kansas Judicial Selection, November 14, 2007
- "St. Louis Post-Dispatch" HJR 10 Passes, April 8, 2009
- "Missouri General Assembly" History of Missouri HJR 10, May 16, 2009
- "Missouri House of Representatives" 95th General Assembly, First Regular Session Activity History for HJR 10, July 7, 2009