Missouri’s new Supreme Court Chief Justice doesn’t mind taking on the role of chief defender of the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan.
Chief Justice Ray Price says he’s willing to consider mild changes to the Missouri Plan which chooses appellate judges and some circuit judges, but rejects any suggestions of wholesale changes.
Price staunchly opposes any consideration of electing appeals court and Supreme Court judges.
“The problem with direct elections is the perception of corruption,” Price says.
Illinois has direct elections. St. Louis broadcast airwaves are clogged with commercials for Illinois Supreme Court judges during election season. Anyone can access campaign contribution information and make their own inference on certain judges.
“People of Missouri don’t want their judges bought and paid for,” Price says. “I think we need to stay away from that as much as possible.”
Few of the critics of the Missouri Plan call for a return to direct elections. Groups, such as Better Courts for Missouri , advocate a change of the make-up of the Appellate Judicial Commission which forwards a panel of three nominees from which the governor can choose a judge. Most of the critics of the Missouri Plan claim it has tilted the court to the left; a more liberal perspective. They claim a correction is needed to bring balance to the court, including the State Supreme Court.
Price understands those critics claim the Supreme Court operates on an ideology.
“Well, most of those critics always want you to decide in favor of their ideology and against the other,” Price says. “Neutral generally doesn’t satisfy them.”
Price says the brilliance of the Missouri Plan is that it contains checks and balances to prevent it from being high-jacked by any one group or ideology.
Proposed changes to the Missouri Plan got farther in the legislature this year than in the past. HJR 10 barely cleared the House on an 85-to-72 vote. The resolution would have added a lay person to the Appellate Judicial Commission. It would have subjected more of its meetings and work to public scrutiny. It would have allowed the governor to reject a panel of candidates submitted by the commission and force the commission to submit another. It didn’t make it out of the Senate. Any change to the Missouri Plan would have to be approved by the voters.
The Missouri Plan, first adopted by voters in 1940, is a merit selection process that chooses the state’s appellate judges, including those who sit on the State Supreme Court, as well as trial judges in the state’s largest judicial circuits. The Missouri Bar has opposed attempts to change the Missouri Plan.