Feedback on Missouri Plan Op-Ed
I have had the pleasure of receiving some great feedback from David Steelman over the past two days about my op-ed on the Missouri Plan. We have had an excellent discussion. Steelman, an attorney and former state representative, corrected me on one point. I said I couldn’t imagine that the framers of the Missouri Plan had in mind the ability to "stack the deck" (my term, not his) with supporters of an ex-governor, when they instituted six-year, staggered terms for members of judicial commissions. He pointed out that at the time of the reforms, Missouri governors could not serve consecutive terms so the six-year term was absolutely an intentional decision by the plan’s framers to take politics out of the appointments, by making commission members independent of whomever was currently serving as governor. So I stand corrected and appreciate the information.
He pointed out that the most clearly political selections come after one party has had a stronghold on the commission selection for a long period of time. He then suggested that the best way to go would be for the commission to have no political appointments, since that inevitably leads to politics being injected into judgeships. I don’t think he intends for every member of the judicial commissions to be elected lawyers or automatic judges, but rather that citizen members should be chosen by some other method. Since, in his opinion, that last option is unlikely, he believes keeping six-year staggered terms is the best way to have more consistent, less volatile, and less political judicial selections.
In short, my opinion is that if the use of six-year, staggered terms for appointees was intended to keep politics out of the appointments and increase independence, then that is one part of the Missouri Plan that failed. Too often, the appointees of ex-governors particularly in the current Appellate Court panel are more loyal to their party than to the idea of a fair panel. So it would be better, to my mind, to eliminate the idea that appointed spots aren’t political, and instead just admit the obvious and have appointees serve their terms concurrent with the governor. There would still be checks and balances on appointees through elected lawyers and the automatically placed judge on each committee. This is what I mean by respecting the will of the voters.
But David made a number of good points, and I greatly appreciate his time and thoughts.
I also received a call today, with some similar commets and critiques, from a judge I won’t name (even though it would not be a big deal if I did). I appreciate the judge’s feedback, as well. I wish to emphasize again that I support the Missouri Plan and think it would be an enormous mistake to get rid of it. If my op-ed can play a small role in sparking discussions about ways to improve the plan, while keeping it primarily intact, then I will be very pleased.