Wednesday, August 15, 2007

It's Not About the Judges

One of the bits of "wisdom" that both parties have picked up on over the past decade or so is the importance of "wedge issues" to excite "their" voters and get them to show up at the polls on election day. The ideal wedge issue is one that your people are passionate about, but the other side is less interested.

The battle over the Missouri Plan is a wedge issue.

Stem cells are a decent example. If you believe that stem cell experimentation is murder, you are motivated to show up at the polls and save lives. If you believe stem cell research is simply a promising area of medical advancement, the accepted wisdom is that you're less motivated to get up and vote. Preventing murder with God on your side ought to generate more votes than supporting a bunch of nerds in lab coats doing stuff you don't really understand. So, if you want religious conservatives to show up at the polls, put stem cells on the ballot as a wedge issue. Other examples include the minimum wage, gun control and gay marriage.

This year, the Republicans are relying on activist judges instead of stem cell-murdering scientists to get their voters to the polls.

They've started laying the groundwork for their attack on the Missouri Plan already. They've tried to paint Chief Justice Laura Stith into a corner by making silly requests for meaningless documents. They've tried to falsely accuse the Nominating Commission of being "secretive". They've run billboards raising the specter of "activist judges", without being able to name a single Missouri state judge who qualifies for that flexible label.

The funny thing is, life without the Missouri Plan would be worse for all of us, Republicans and Democrats. That's why we're seeing Republican ex-judges and lawyers doing their best to stop this wedge issue. That's why Republican ex-Chief Justices have come out in favor of the Missouri Plan. That's why Lathrop & Gage evicted Jeff Roe from their offices after they started to get calls questioning their smelly alliance with the loudest opponent of the Missouri Plan.

Now, imagine for a moment that you are a conservative republican (I hope that's a stretch for you). Think for a second about having elected judges interpreting our laws and running our courtrooms. Think about the scoundrels and rascals those democrats have gotten elected statewide in the past, and think about the trends in republican popularity. Think about Chief Justice Bob Holden running our Supreme Court. Think about who would get elected to be our trial judges in Kansas City and St. Louis - where most big trials happen. Do you want Judge Coe handling your divorce?

Nobody intelligent really wants the Missouri Plan to go away. Not even Jeff Roe. But they are willing to risk damaging Missouri's judicial system for a one-time shot at motivating some ill-informed voters to the polls so they can vote against non-existent activist judges.

Let's hope that those who care about our judicial system more than about the next election win out.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...


Excellent post. If Blunt really cares about the policies that he is trying to implement, he better be careful not to create a system where the interpretation of the laws varies according to whether the Republicans or Democrats are in power. Everyone - citizens, litigants and politicians - benefits from consistent, legally sound interpretation of the law. The Missouri Plan encourages that.

As they say, "Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it." If Blunt succeeds in killing or maiming the Missouri Plan, the entire state will suffer from increased politicization of the courts and diminished judicial consistency. Blunt should know better. If he is really that stupid, his advisors should know better. Based on his history, though, maybe they are that stupid.

We can all hope that he is a one term governor.


8/15/2007 10:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your post makes good valid points. The one disconnect I would note is that the conservatives did not put stem cells on the ballot; the people advocating embryonic stem cell research did.

8/18/2007 5:12 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Thank you, Anonymous - you are correct. I think the anti-stem-cell people are working on getting it back on the ballot, but you are right about the prior instance.

8/19/2007 9:17 AM  
Anonymous Scott said...

Non parisan plan, my ass!

You don't serously think that politics is not involved in selecting the very panels that are presented to the governor, do you?

Of course you don't.

But look at the KC legal community. Top lawyers loan money to judges and either nothing happens or the get "admonsished".

Who ya kiddin?

8/21/2007 6:36 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Scott -

You kind of blundered into a major gaffe here. Because the judge who took the loans was not chosen by the Missouri Plan. Instead, she was chosen by the City Council, in a process very similar to one of the proposals the rightwingers are circulating. Ouch.

Thanks for pointing that out, though. We need to reduce the role of politics in our judicial selection, not increase it!

8/21/2007 6:44 AM  

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