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

Building Trust

September 20th, 2007 by mopns · No Comments

Last week, state Sen. Charlie Shields called Missouri Supreme Court Justice Laura Denvir Stith before the Senate Rules Committee to answer serious questions. The St. Joseph Republican took this unprecedented step in response to equally unprecedented allegations that the Appellate Judicial Commission – chaired by Stith – had engaged in secrecy and backroom dealings in replacing Justice Ronnie White on the Missouri Supreme Court.

As the Adam Smith Foundation noted months ago, and as Sen. Shields now knows, the process for selecting Supreme Court judges is outdated. Clearly, its greatest flaws stem from the fact that the commission conducts the judicial selection process in absolute secrecy with virtually no outside input or accountability. In turn, the admirable goals of the Missouri Court Plan have fallen victim to partisan manipulation and backroom deals.

Our federalist founders held a cautiously pessimistic view of man and thus urged American colonists to adopt a Constitution. Eventually the Bill of Rights was passed to further limit the reach of government.

Unfortunately, Justice Stith and some members of the Appellate Judicial Commission believe that government leaders are immune to corruption, so long as they wear black robes and do their pontificating behind closed doors. If there were any doubt, Justice Stith and the Appellate Judicial Commission have responded to charges of abuses by urging Missourians to consult the Supreme Court Rules, which codify the secretive process they defend. Do they really believe a Supreme Court Rule will give Missourians reason to trust that the selection of Judge Breckenridge was conducted fairly and honestly?

The enactment of a rule by a body that operates independently of the public will does nothing to earn the public’s trust. By demanding that Justice Stith appear and publicly defend this broken process, Sen. Shields has demonstrated his persuasion that public trust in our system of government is complicated, delicate and the result of much more than a boilerplate rule.

To build public trust, we encourage Justice Stith and members of the elected branches of government to engage in a full and fair debate concerning the role of the judicial branch and the process for selecting its members.

It is our sincere hope that this strong first step will be supplemented in January by a fair debate over legislation aimed at changing the judicial selection process. Finally, to protect public trust, we encourage Justice Stith to submit the judicial selection process to the same open records laws that apply to the rest of government.

John Elliott

President of the Adam Smith Foundation

Smithville, Mo.

Related:

Tech Trends: Missouri Media Ignorant Of Judicial Branch

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Tags: Adam Smith Foundation

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  • 1 Dan // Sep 23, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    The Missouri Plan is working fine, and Judge Stith is doing a far, far better job of complying with the laws regarding openness than the Republicans in the Blunt Administration. Even republican lawyers support the Missouri Plan, because it works.

    It is hilarious that you termed it “boilerplate”, since it originated here, and has been adopted in many other states.

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