Missouri’s system for choosing appellate judges, including judges to the State Supreme Court, would change slightly under a proposal sparking heated exchanges during House floor debate.
Rep. Stanley Cox (R-Sedalia) sponsors the resolution, telling colleagues that the purpose of HCS HJR 10 is to save the system from its current frailties. That system is the Missouri Plan, the state’s non-partisan court plan, used to select all appellate judges and some circuit court judges. Cox sees a system beset by a secretive process that keeps the public out and allows elite lawyers to control the selection of judges.
Yet, Rep. Steve Brown (D-St. Louis) challenges Cox to name a judge chosen by the current system who isn’t qualified.
"Are we, through this system, producing an inferior product," Brown asks Cox during House floor debate. "Meaning, are we putting judges on the bench that are not qualified."
Cox refuses to name any, but insists the current plan is flawed.
"We need accountability," Cox replies. "We need openness and we need accountability."
Brown responds that Cox is hiding his true target: MATA, the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys . Some conservative groups charge that MATA has too much influence in the judicial selection process.
HCS HJR 10 would add a citizen to the eight-member Appellate Judicial Commission , which recommends judicial candidates to the governor. The commission would submit four, rather than three, candidates to the governor who could veto the initial panel of candidates and force the commission to submit another.
The workings of the commission would be opened to the public. The proposal calls for hearings, debates and votes of the commission to be made public. Applicants for a judicial vacancy would be posted on the Missouri Supreme Court web site.
The House gave the measure preliminary approval on an 82-to-72 vote. Supporters cannot afford to lose any votes. Bills and resolutions must receive 82 votes on final consideration in the House to win approval. If it achieves that, it would move on to the Senate, which has been unenthusiastic about debating changes to the Missouri Plan. If it clears the legislature, it would go to a vote of the people.