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Group drops campaign for judicial selection reform in Missouri

Group drops campaign for judicial selection reform in Missouri

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JEFFERSON CITY • The supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment that would change the process for selecting Missouri’s appellate judges announced today that they are dropping their campaign.

In a statement today, judicial reform advocates say they have decided to save their resources and not promote the measure, which will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. They cited Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan’s ballot summary as the reason behind their decision to abandon the effort.

"The ballot wording Robin Carnahan submitted is undeniably biased and misleading and does not accurately communicate the reforms that voters will be deciding," said Rich Chrismer, spokesman for Missourians for Better Courts, the main group supporting Amendment 3.

Campaign finance records show the a non-profit organization called Missourians for Open and Accountable Judicial Selection contributed $80,000 to the campaign earlier this month. Chrismer said the group decided not to put further resources into the effort following the court's decision that Carnahan's language would stand.

Meanwhile, opponents of Amendment 3 have secured more than $410,000 from donors,  including several Missouri law firms.

The current process for filling vacancies on the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals is supported by the Missouri Bar, but some legislators and other critics of the Missouri Plan say it gives too much power to lawyers and cannot be held accountable by voters.

A group of retired state Supreme Court judges and business and community leaders launched a committee this summer called the Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts Committee  in support of the current process, which the state has used since 1940.

“For more than 70 years Missouri has served as a national model for selecting judges based on merit and not on politics. Missourians simply do not support overturning our nonpartisan system for picking judges with one that allow politics into our courtrooms,” committee treasurer Skip Walther said today. “We will continue to educate Missouri voters on why it’s dangerous to allow politicians to control what is now a nonpartisan process. We urge all Missourians to protect the nonpartisan nature of our courts by showing up to the polls on Nov. 6 and voting no on Amendment 3.”

If approved by voters, the amendment would give the governor an additional appointee on the state's judicial nominating committee and increase the number of nominees that are referred to the governor from three to four.

Under the current law, the Appellate Judicial Commission includes a Supreme Court judge, three people selected by Missouri Bar members and three gubernatorial appointees who are not bar members.

The ballot measure would replace the Supreme Court judge with another political appointee – leaving three bar members and four “citizen” members selected by the governor.

The state Legislature approved the measure this session, but lawmakers did not write a summary for it.

State Rep. Stanley Cox, a Republican from Sedalia and the chief sponsor of the initiative in the House, said he agreed with the decision to consider alternatives. He also blamed the ballot wording.

"I agree with the decision not to spend resources fighting for a ballot measure that Secretary of State Carnahan has rigged to achieve her preferred political outcome," he said. "Due to the hopelessly biased ballot language for Amendment 3, every Missourian who votes in the November election will be intentionally deceived by Robin Carnahan."

Carnahan’s summary for the ballot measure asks: “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to change the current nonpartisan selection of supreme court and court of appeals judges to a process that gives the governor increased authority to: appoint a majority of the commission that selects these court nominees; and appoint all lawyers to the commission by removing the requirement that the governor's appointees be nonlawyers?”

The summary has been ruled “fair and sufficient” by the court.

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