State senators, concerned about the selection of appellate judges, have questioned the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court about the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan.

Chief Justice Laura Denvir Stith has strongly defended the Missouri Plan during an appearance before the Senate Rules Committee. The chairman of the committee, Senator Charlie Shields (R-St. Joseph), had asked the entire Appellate Judicial Commission to attend. The commission sent Stith as its representative.

Sen. Joan Bray, a St. Louis Democrat, took a shot at the Republicans who called for the meeting, stating, "I think we do need to acknowledge that one of the reasons that we are here today is that the Plan is under attack."

Republicans on the committee deny the accusation. They say they support the plan and have no plans for its overhaul. But they do say the Missouri Plan, adopted by a vote of the people in 1940, might be in need of adjustment.

Sen. Luann Ridgeway (R-Smithville) tells Stith she’s concerned the Appellate Judicial Commission presented Governor Blunt, a Republican, with two Democrats and one Republican to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court. The commission settled on a panel of three appellate judges as the nominees to fill the vacancy created when Ronnie White left the court to return to private practice. Blunt chose Patricia Breckenridge, the only one of the three with Republican credentials.

Stith, though, says it would be unwise to tell Democrats they need not apply when a Republican is governor or say the same to Republicans when a Democrat sits in the governor’s office. Stith says she has always thought of the plan as truly non-partisan, because that was her experience. She tells the committee she clerked for a Republican Supreme Court Judge put on the court by a Democrat and then became a member of the court upon appointment by a Democrat.

Stith says the Missouri Plan is the least political way to choose judges.


Download/listen Brent Martin reports (:60 MP3)