A Missouri lawmaker wants to modify the state’s judicial nominating process just as a high court position has opened up.
The death of Judge Richard Teitelman leaves the Supreme Court short one seat. The Appellate Judicial Committee will now interview applicants from which it will choose three finalists to place before the governor for appointment.
State Senator Dan Hegeman (R-Crosby) is sponsoring a proposal which would expand the selection process by requiring the committee to place all applicants it deems qualified before the governor. He says some worthy candidates don’t even apply because they don’t think they’ll have a chance.
“I think that, in visiting with local attorneys, judges, prosecutors and such, I think some of them do feel stifled about the process and don’t even apply, because they’re from rural northwest Missouri” said Hegeman. “They’re from rural Missouri. They’re not in the loop on some of these things. And even though they may very well be extremely qualified for the position, the process and the selection of only three applicants, really stifles their belief that they have an opportunity to be considered.”
Teitelman was considered a liberal voice on the court, having spent nearly a quarter century at a St. Louis firm which represents low income people, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri.
Even though Teitelman’s seat is now open, Hegeman, a Republican, contends his proposal has no political implications and is not motivated by rulings in which Teitelman could have been a deciding vote. “(The proposal) doesn’t deal with the rulings of the state Supreme Court. It really deals with the process of selecting judges, and wanting to open up that process, and allowing more individuals the opportunity to be considered.”
The state’s method for selecting appellate and Supreme Court judges is widely known as the Missouri Plan. It emerged in 1940 after citizens became skeptical of urban political party bosses who were thought to be manipulating partisan elections of judges.
The plan has been praised for being nonpartisan, and has been adopted in some form by numerous other states. Hegeman notes his plan doesn’t dismantle that system. “The purpose of the bill is to make a tweak to it, so it’s evident that I would like to see some changes to it. Therefore, the resolution to open up the process.”
Hegeman introduced the same legislation last session, but it failed to move beyond the committee level. If lawmakers approve it in 2017, the proposal will still go to a public vote because it makes a change to the state constitution.