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Retired Supreme Court judges become public face of anti-Amendment 3 campaign

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 23, 2012 - Six retired judges from the Missouri Supreme Court are headlining a group -- Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts Committee (MFICC) – set up to campaign against Amendment 3, a proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot that would give governors more power in the selection of many judges.

The former Supreme Court judges are a mix of Republican and Democratic appointees.

In a statement, the group says it is out to protect the 70-year-old Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan and “will educate voters this fall on why putting politicians in charge of Missouri’s judicial selection process is dangerous because it brings partisan politics into the one branch of government where it has been held at bay.”

Amendment 3 has been sought by some critics of the current selection process, who contend that it has allowed the Missouri Bar to exert too much control over the judicial selection process, and has led to too many liberal judges.

Under Missouri’s constitution, the governor chooses the judges on the state appeals courts, the Supreme Court, and courts in some metropolitan areas, including St. Louis and St. Louis County.

The choices come from panels of three nominees who have been selected by special commissions made up of equal members of the Bar and of people chosen by the governor. Also on the commission is the chief justice on the Missouri Supreme Court.

The people chosen by the governor also serve staggered terms, so that the sitting governor would not have selected all of them during his or her four-year term.

Under the Senate proposal, the governor would choose four people to serve on the selection commission, and all would be named during the governor’s term. The Bar would have three representatives. The chief justice would no longer sit on the panel and would be replaced by a non-voting retired judge.

Amendment 3 opponents note that it also would eliminate the current requirement that none of the governor’s appointees are lawyers.

Said recently retired Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ray Price, who was appointed by Republican Gov. John Ashcroft, in a statement: “Seventy years ago voters decided that it was time to keep politics out of our courtrooms and allow the rule of law, not political agendas, to guide the administration of justice in Missouri. At a time when there is simply too much politics in government, Missouri’s voters should reject this attempt to discard our nonpartisan system for selecting judges.”

Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts Committee also assert that “Amendment 3 would make judges beholden to partisan politicians as opposed to the current Nonpartisan Court Plan, which selects judges based on merit, not politics or partisanship. The proposed constitutional changes would also move Missouri to a system that much more closely resembles how judges are selected in Washington, D.C.”

Besides Price, the other judges serving as honorary co-chairs of Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts Committee are:

  • Former Supreme Court Judge Ronnie L. White, appointed by Democratic Governor Mel Carnahan.
  • Former Supreme Court Judge John C. Holstein, appointed by Republican Governor John Ashcroft.
  • Former Supreme Court Judge Ann K. Covington, appointed by Republican Governor John Ashcroft.
  • Former Supreme Court Judge Michael A. Wolff, appointed by Democratic Governor Mel Carnahan.
  • Former Supreme Court Judge Edward D. “Chip” Robertson, Jr., appointed by Republican Governor John Ashcroft.
Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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