"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Show Me the Judges

August 30th, 2007 by mopns · No Comments

The Wall Street Journal has an editorial today on the so called “Missouri Plan.” Unfortunately, you must be a WSJ online subscriber to read the full article. We have excerpted part of the piece below.

“In a Federalist Society poll done in March, 87% of state residents were unaware even of the make-up of the nominating commission.”

For the latest proof that you can’t get politics out of politics, see the battle in Missouri over how the state selects its judges. All three branches of that state’s government are arguing over a system that was designed to protect judicial independence from the rowdier environs of democratic elections. What it now has is worse.

Launched in 1940, the so-called “Missouri Plan” was once considered state of the art and imitated by many other states. An ostensibly non-partisan seven-member commission chooses a slate of three nominees and the Governor chooses among them. The idea was to produce candidates based on merit while diluting political influence over courts.
But that was then. Anybody with the power to choose judicial candidates was also destined to become a political actor. And that’s exactly what has happened to the Appellate Judicial Commission, made up of three members chosen by the Missouri Bar Association, three picked by current and past Governors, and the chief justice of the state supreme court. Now Republican Governor Matt Blunt finds himself battling the Missouri bar over the commission’s latest panel of candidates to fill the seat of retiring state
Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White.

From a list of some 30 applicants, the commission offered Mr. Blunt three nominees. One, Nannette Baker, is a former TV reporter who practiced law for three years before taking her current seat on the bench. Her inclusion allows the commission to take credit for proposing an African American to fill a seat being vacated by an African American. Yet the original list of 30 had other, more impressive black candidates, including Appellate Judge
Lisa Hardwick, who had apparently not been deferential enough to the bar association.
The second option is Ron Holliger, a trial lawyer known for personal injury and product liability suits. He’s the choice of those lawyers who hope to preserve a permissive judicial environment.

Behind door No. 3 is the nominally “conservative” option, Judge Patricia Breckenridge.
How the commission arrived at this roster has its own hazy backroom quality, an issue that has become part of the controversy. What is clear is that over the decades the state bar has increasingly dominated the selection of finalists. Each applicant was required to fill out a form asking such non-probing questions as where they live and whether they have children. The real decision-making was conducted in interviews, where commission members got into weightier matters of politics and judicial philosophy.

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