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Government, Politics & Issues

Opponents organize over Missouri court measure

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Defenders of Missouri's method for selecting appellate judges are fighting a proposed constitutional amendment that would change the system.

Judges on the Missouri Supreme Court and the state Court of Appeals are selected by the governor from three finalists recommended by a special commission. The commission consists of one Supreme Court judge, three lawyers and three non-lawyers chosen by the governor.

Voters will decide on a measure that would increase the number of gubernatorial appointees serving on the nominating commission. It also would increase the number of finalists submitted by the panel to the governor for appointments.

The group called Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts Committee is urging voters to oppose the measure. Six former state Supreme Court judges lead the committee, which also includes business and community leaders.

Former Supreme Court Judge William Ray Price, Jr. says those behind the amendment are attempting to inject politics into the judiciary.

"What they are really trying to do is try to concentrate power in one political office that they can affect with their big money contributions. They ought to be honest and say that’s what’s going on," Price said. " They want to buy judicial appointments like they try to buy everything else in Jefferson City."

Republican Senator Jim Lembke sponsored the bill to get the amendment on the ballot.

He says the proposed changes would make the governor accountable for the judges he or she appoints.

"There’s no doubt that this gives the governor more of a check on the process of choosing judges and a check on the judiciary, but that governor answers to the electorate," Lembke said.

Lembke says while judges currently face a retention vote, he calls that process "useless."

Follow Maria Altman on Twitter: @radioaltman


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