Missouri Legal Special Interest Group Comes Out Against Reform
September 26, 2008
Surprise, surprise. Prime Buzz reports that the Missouri Bar Association has come out against a proposal by gubernatorial candidate Kenny Hulshof to reduce the influence of legal special interest groups (like the Bar Association) in selecting Missouri judges. Prime Buzz has posted the full text of the Bar Association’s statement. You can read my previous post on the Hulshof plan here.
The Missouri Bar Association protests that it is a “diverse organization” that represents “every practicing lawyer in the state.” But the fact that some Bar Association members got their law degree at the University of Missouri while others got their JDs at Washington University doesn’t really make the group diverse. And why do lawyers believe they should enjoy some special privilege when it comes to choosing who will control one-third of the state government? Don’t teachers have a right to an equal voice? Or policemen? Or firefighters? Or doctors? Or CPAs? Or small business owners?
Yes, the Missouri Bar says, but “voters have the final say” because they get a yes or no vote on whether to retain judges once in office. If anyone knows the answer to this question, please let me know: Since the Missouri Plan was adopted in 1940, how many sitting judges have lost retention elections? I know since Tennessee ended democratic elections in the 1970s, 145 out of 146 judges have been returned to the bench.
But the current system “reduces the excesses of partisan politics” in choosing judges, the Bar claims. Well, out of the last 21 nominees to the state Supreme Court chosen by the non-political commission, 19 have been Democrats. Last time I checked, Missouri Democrats didn’t outnumber Republicans 90% to 10%. And Governor Matt Blunt has been locked in a political battle with the state’s “nonpartisan” nominating commission virtually since he took office. If partisanship is the standard by which to judge, then the Missouri plan has been an abject failure and deserves to be radically reformed or thrown out entirely.
My own strong preference is for democratic judicial elections to ensure that judges are accountable to the people they serve. But the Hulshof plan is an acid test for special interest groups: Are they really in favor of a nonpartisan commission picking judges? Or do they really just want to protect their own power in choosing who sits on the bench?