Keeping Judicial Selection A “Members-Only” Affair

July 23, 2012

The former President of the Missouri Bar warns that a ballot proposal to give ordinary citizens and their elected representatives more power to pick judges would enable political donors to “literally … buy their way into the process of judicial selection.”  Pure nonsense.  What the plan would do is weaken the power of one of the state’s most powerful special interest groups – the Missouri Bar itself.

Under the current Missouri Plan, the Missouri Bar by law has permanent 4-3 majority control of the Appellate Judicial Commission, which serves as the gateway for the judicial nominees.  No prospective judge in Missouri can make it to the bench unless he or she has kissed the rings of these commissioners and earned their seal of approval.  Just imagine seven Caesars sitting around a table giving a thumbs up or thumbs down to judicial candidates and you’ve got a pretty good idea how the process works.

How are these all-powerful commissioners chosen?  Well, three of the seven are handpicked in a “members-only” fashion by the Bar itself.  According to Missouri’s Procedures for Election of Judicial Commission Members, 30 days before the election of commissioners the Missouri Bar “shall certify … the electronic file of lawyers eligible to vote in the election.”  The file includes the names, Missouri Bar ID and Missouri Bar PIN for all lawyers eligible to vote.

“The Missouri Bar’s identification and The Missouri Bar PIN used for access to the Missouri Bar’s secure members-only web site shall be used to confirm eligibility to vote electronically.  The electronic election software shall not allow anyone to access the ballot who does not enter The Missouri Bar ID and PIN that were certified in the electronic voter file.”

“Members only” votes?  Restricted access to ballots?  Secret meetings where a single special interest group has a permanent monopoly on the judicial selection process.  Is this really a democratic way to choose public servants?

Dire warnings from the legal aristocracy about people being able to “literally … buy their way” into the judicial selection process need to be taken with a beach full of grains of salt – especially when they come from special interests that would never need to “buy their way” into the process because they already control it in the first place.

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One Response to “Keeping Judicial Selection A “Members-Only” Affair”

  1. Timthy E. Hogan on July 24th, 2012 6:54 pm

    The so-called “secret ballot” process is one which allows any member of he entire Missouri Bar to nominate his or herself to be included in the process for selection of judges in Missouri.

    Non-bar members may seek appointment, too. Judges also participate. The blend of judges, lawyers and non-bar members in the judicial selection process in Missouri has served us well.

    I believe what you are criticizing here is the inability or unwillingness of the members of the bar which represent the interests of the Chamber of Commerce to be successful in participating in the process in Missouri. Such is not a fault of the system but, of the individual bar members who represent the interests of the Chamber.

    Adding some other layer of elected official involvement by allowing court nomination committee stacking or other measures will only politicize the process and allow money which elects politicians to put people on the nominating committees rather than citizen volunteers from the bar and the community at large. Shame on you and your members for attacking others for your own failures!