Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Why Stop with Judges?

One of the main tactics of those seeking to undermine the Missouri Plan is to accuse its defenders of being anti-Democratic. After all, they argue, why shouldn't average voters play a larger role in choosing members of our bench? Why should judges be chosen by commissions instead of through the ordinary elective process, where political consultants and party politics can influence the result?

The argument makes a lot of sense. Despite the fact that we have a state legislature which performs at a level far beneath reasonable expectations (darn, I wanted to come up with a snappier description, but words fail me this morning!), and a Governor less popular than foie gras at a PETA meeting, we are expected to have confidence in our voters' ability to choose officers of the court wisely. After all, the folks down at the local diner are just as qualified to measure legal ability and judicial temperament as an experienced, non-partisan commission, right? Right?

Those of us defending the Missouri Plan argue that we want special skills and attributes in our judges, and that those qualifications are best considered in the current structure. Our opponents want to substitute partisan politics for that process.

My question is, why stop with the judges? If more partisanship is a good thing, why should we not apply similar standards to ALL important state offices? If they really think we've been so wonderfully successful in choosing a great General Assembly and Governor, let's expand the process even further.

One of the most vocal opponents of the Missouri Plan, and most ardent proponents of more partisan influence in the process, is Professor Bill Eckhardt. A quick check in the Missouri "Blue Book" reveals that he has been appointed to be a Professor for our fair state, for which he is paid a reasonable sum of money. I sincerely like Professor Eckhardt, and think he's a good professor, but do you remember ever voting for him? Why should we entrust the important job of teaching our law students to someone chosen by an elite panel of law professors? Not only are there no elections held for law professors, there aren't even any commissions including lay people! Really! Can you believe that an opponent of the Missouri Plan would participate in such a non-Democratic scheme??

But I don't mean to pick on Professor Eckhardt. Truth is, the non-Democratic scheme used to choose him worked tremendously well, and the State of Missouri has chosen and retained a fine man and a great professor without public elections or partisan politics.

But if the position of the Missouri Plan opponents is that we NEED partisan politics to choose our judges, I think they ought to expand their scope.

Let's choose a professor of neurosurgery based on how well she shakes hands at Lincoln Days. Please, don't squeeze too hard!

Let's choose Mizzou's coaches at the polls.

How about the Senate Chaplain? What could be a more important role than setting our Senate right with God? How can we allow a system that chooses such an important role without public input? I think we ought to have a full primary system among the various denominations in the state, with a final run-off election among the top 4 vote-getters. What a wonderful and dignified process that could be for our state, and what a way of showing how committed we are to democracy, to have an election among the religions!

Those of us who support the Missouri Plan realize that different positions require different levels of political involvement. Choosing our judges is a process where partisan politics ought to be kept to a minimum, and judicial independence is an important goal. Every single proposal being bandied about by the opponents of the Missouri Plan increases the influence of money and partisanship. Do we really want that? If we do, then I'm running for Coach of Mizzou basketball - he gets the best seat in the house . . .

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15 Comments:

Blogger Jim said...

Effective use of bolding. That sentence really is the heart of the matter.

1/09/2008 7:55 AM  
Blogger whistleblower said...

I want to keep this civil. Let's give it a try

If our schools and our hospitals were branches of the government, you might have a point.

When the Missouri Plan was adopted, was the Missouri Bar Association a committee of the Missouri Supreme Court? Answer=No

The Missouri Plan was adopted in 1940.

In 1945, The Missouri Supreme Court adopted the Missouri Bar Association as a committee of the Court.

In 1976, the Governor lost his ability to reject the judges presented to him by the selection committee.

As it stands, the Judiciary, through its committee known as the Missouri Bar Association, who is not elected by the voters of Missouri, has the controlling interest in who becomes a judge.

That is neither democratic, nor representative of the people.

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to James Madison in which he stated, "I know of no safe repository of the ultimate power of society but the people, and if we think them not enlightened enough, the remedy is not to take the power from them."

The voters of Missouri sometimes make bad choices, but the government belongs to them, and not the Judiciary, or a committee of the Judiciary.

The Plan submitted by Bill Placke does not involve partisan election of judges. It resembles our federal plan, which has been around for a lot longer time than the Missouri Plan.

I don’t blame the judiciary for wanting to hold on to this power, but it belongs with the people. For the people to want the ability to have a representative role in selecting their government should not be considered sinister, but patriotic.

1/09/2008 10:19 AM  
Anonymous Whistleblowme said...

I'm all for civility here.

First off, schools and hospitals are managed through the executive branch, like the circuit courts are managed through the judicial branch. And the Senate Chaplain is part of the legislative branch. Dan's right on that point.

Second, does the Missouri Bar have a role in judicial selection? No. Attorneys do, and they are members of the Missouri Bar, but the organization does not have an official role in the process. So your history lesson is kind of a red herring, I respectfully and civilly submit.

Third, Bill Placke's plan doesn't really "return" power to the people, at least not in the form of direct elections, does it? Why not? Isn't that a violation of the spirit behind the quotation from Jefferson, which most certainly does not refer to the Missouri Plan? Like Dan argues, if you like Democracy so much, let's elect Chaplains, coaches, and professors. Cops, too, for that matter!

Finally, as Dan points out in bold letters (I don't know how to do that), "Every single proposal being bandied about by the opponents of the Missouri Plan increases the influence of money and partisanship." Bingo! (Said in a civil tone, of course.)

(I'd adopt a different name, since I realize you take mine as an insult, but I think I'll hold on to it, since your name implies that you are bravely uncovering abuse, and that is offensive to me, a well-informed supporter of the current system.)

1/09/2008 10:36 AM  
Anonymous How about a Hummer Instead? said...

Heh - yeah, the name "whistleblower" makes me think of some little brat blowing on a whistle and making obnoxious pointless noise. Not that that has any relevance to our fellow commentator here . . .

1/09/2008 10:54 AM  
Blogger whistleblower said...

whistleblowme...

I do acknowledge that there are many positions available in our form of government.

With the exception of the judiciary, all of those positions are filled by direct election or by appointment of our elected representatives.

For example; the board of higher education is appointed by the governor, and confirmed by the senate.

Am I correct?

The majority of the judicial selection committee is elected by the members of the judiciary thru it's committee known as the Missouri Bar Association.

Is that statement also correct?

While Mr. Placke's initiative does not call for direct election. It does return control to those whom have been elected by the voters.

Correct?

I have no intent to mislead. I would like to approach this one step at a time.

1/09/2008 11:47 AM  
Blogger whistleblower said...

whistleblowme...

FYI to make something bold you use html coding.
<"b"> Starts the BOLD TYPE and <"/b"> ends it.

<"i"> starts italics and <"/i"> ends it.

Remove the quotation marks to make it work. I had to put them in so the function would not be active.
The "<" ">" and "/" are important.

The command is between the less than and greater than symbols. The / tells it to end the command.

I hope this helps.

1/09/2008 11:57 AM  
Anonymous Whistleblowme said...

Whistleblower -

Thanks!

The judiciary is no exception to the rule. Judges are either elected or selected through the Missouri Plan. Those selected are appointed by the Governor. While a possibility exists that the governor could reject an entire panel, I don't believe that has ever happened, and, even if it did, the Commission would make the choice, and the majority of that panel is composed of gubernatorial appointments (the lay person and the Chief Justice). Am I correct? Because, if I am, you are not correct on that point.

The majority of the selection committee is NOT elected by the members of the judiciary thru it's (sic) committee known as the Missouri Bar Association. You are not correct on that point.

Which, not surprisingly, leads us to your final fallacy. Placke's plan does not "return" control to the voters, because they always had it - to a far, far greater extent than they have it for Professor Eckhardt. Correct?

It merely changes the way that control is exercised, and subjects it, as Dan says, to increased "influence of money and partisanship". Correct?

I, like you, have absolutely no intent to mislead.

1/09/2008 12:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems like we have a pretty good group of state judges, and, when we try to get too much legislative involvement like Placke wants, we wind up with crooks like Debbie Neal.

Why break what ain't broken?

1/09/2008 1:24 PM  
Blogger whistleblower said...

I'm working on a response to whistleblowme, but I didn't want to have anyone left misinformed.

Anonymous...

The legislature was not involved with putting Debbie Neal on the bench. She was a KC Muni judge.

1/09/2008 2:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The City Council is a legislative body. Incorrect again. Civil, but incorrect.

1/09/2008 2:15 PM  
Anonymous Lobbyist said...

You can trust the Mo. Bar to recommend good people.

They are non partisan. No politics there, no siree!

1/09/2008 2:37 PM  
Anonymous Lobbyist said...

And to take Milds argument further, why have a retention election?

Let the Mo Bar decide!

After all, you can trust them!

They are LAWYERS!

1/09/2008 2:39 PM  
Blogger whistleblower said...

Whistleblowme…

”Those selected are appointed by the Governor”

This is one of the flaws that I see with the current plan. When the plan was adopted, the governor could reject the nominees, and the committee would have to send him a fresh set of nominees from which to make his selection. In 1976 the plan was amended to force the Governor to select one of the 3 nominees presented, or the committee would do it for him.

That doesn’t appear to represent a democracy (or a representative republic) any more than a restaurant the gives you a choice of vegetable; butter beans, lima beans or navy beans. The governor is forced to accept whomever the “non-elected" (by the voters of Missouri) selection committee submits to him.

Could a possible solution be to submit more candidates to the Governor? Maybe require an equal split by party? Just a thought.

As is customary, the Governor is likely looking for a candidate that supports his same constitutional views. If he didn’t I would wonder about him. When he is offered two nominees with opposing beliefs, and one with similar beliefs, his choice becomes very limited; or almost no choice at all. (Much like what occurred this past summer)

The federal plan permits the President to select anyone who meets the qualifications, then the Senate confirms. –That’s a representative republic.

While it is true that the Governor did appoint the Judge that sits on the panel, he /she cannot be considered a disinterested party apart from the Missouri Bar.

When the plan was adopted in 1940, the Missouri Bar Association was, and remains, a corporation. Membership was voluntary, and it was not a committee of the Judiciary.

Five years after the Missouri Plan was adopted, the Judiciary (The Missouri Supreme Court) adopted this corporation to be a committee of the Judiciary. By doing so, I feel, it gave the Judiciary something that it should never have acquired –Force and Will.

The Missouri Bar Association has been involved in drafting legislation. Therefore, the Judiciary, by committee, is involved in the law making process. (something the framers wanted them to stay out of)

I have done a lot of research on this issue. The next time I expect to have my name appear on the docket would be in probate, followed by deceased. I have no dog in this fight. I don’t have any friends that I would like to see appointed as judge. I don’t make my living by appearing in front of judges. I think I’m about as impartial as you can be in this process. My only interest is in having a government for the people, by the people.

I looked into the other states that use some form of the Missouri Plan. Only Indiana has as much Bar dominance as Missouri does.

While Bill Placke’s initiative is the most appealing to me at this time, because I prefer selection by a representative republic as it takes the money out of the game.

As far as political influence, the members of the Bar have political views; they just don’t put an “R” or a “D” behind their name.

1/09/2008 3:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lobbyist - as you would know if you read up on this a little more carefully, the Missouri Bar has no official role in choosing or retaining judges.

1/09/2008 3:26 PM  
Blogger les said...

This attack on the Bar Plan is just another example of political (mostly, but not exclusively, conservative Republican) effort to change systems to get results they want, not "just" results. We see it in the judiciary, where "activist judge" is just a euphemism for a judge who doesn't rule the way they want. Solution: change to a system where money and political influence produce judges beholden to you. You can call it "democracy", but very few voters have any experience with the legal/court system--nor should they--nor any realistic basis for judging the judges aside from political scare stories. We see it in education--don't like the science? Convince people that a vote of the ignorant (I use the term not as a pejorative, but in the sense of lack of knowledge--most voters aren't, and can't be, expert in science or education) carries just as much weight as expertise. Devalue knowledge, expertise, accomplishment; appeal to fear and pander to pride; and control the system through money and influence.

Good work, Dan; stay on it.

1/10/2008 9:09 AM  

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