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The Missouri Bar President Comments on Resolution Aimed at Letting Politicians Hand-Pick Judges

President Lynn Whaley Vogel Says Constitutional Amendment Would Inject Money and Politics into Process of Choosing Appellate Judges

March 22, 2012

JEFFERSON CITY, MO – Missouri Bar President Lynn Whaley Vogel today commented on the Missouri House’s Special Standing Committee on Judicial Reform’s vote to advance House Joint Resolution 44 as amended.

“The Missouri Bar strongly opposes House Joint Resolution 44 as it would inject politics and money into Missouri’s currently non-partisan and proven system of selecting judges. HJR 44, as it stands, would shove aside candidates’ qualifications and abilities in favor of political donations and connections. Even more disheartening, it would weaken the public’s faith and trust in our courts.

This resolution would let politicians hand-pick judges through three new power plays.

First, it would bring politics and money into the process by making the governor’s appointments to the commission subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. Senate confirmation of commissioners is injecting a level of politics where none is needed. What was a non-partisan plan would become a thoroughly partisan plan as high-profile appointments are routinely used as political bargaining chips for wholly unrelated issues. This session to-date, the most important of the governor’s appointments have either been stalled, withdrawn, rejected or are still pending confirmation.

Second, it allows the governor to appoint a majority of the commission to serve in terms that would run concurrent with his or her term in office. By also allowing the Senate Leader and House Speaker to appoint members, it shifts the commission make-up to include six members chosen by politicians with only three attorney members elected at large. This is a gross abuse of the balance of power.

Third, HJR44 would more than triple the number of applicants the governor can pick from while removing the one person on the commission who has the most experience. By growing the applicants recommended from three to ultimately ten, it means a governor would have the power to ignore the carefully considered recommendations of the commission, requiring them to pick five less-qualified candidates or a second-tier for the governor to consider. And by eliminating the requirement that a member of the Supreme Court of Missouri serves on the Appellate Judicial Commission, the resolution removes the one person with the most experience and ability to judge a candidate’s skills, knowledge and suitability for the bench.

HJR44 unleashes politics into a non-partisan process that has been adopted twice by Missouri voters, has been copied by more than 30 states and has a more than 70 year proven record of working for Missourians by providing fair and impartial judges.”

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