Missouri’s Senate looks to change merit selection, rejected amendments would have changed supreme court power over judicial resources

Last week it was Tennessee debating merit selection. This week the focus is on Missouri.

SJR 51, as introduced, would have changed the structure of the judicial nominating commissions, allowing the Governor to appoint all members with the advice and consent of the Senate. The governor would have been barred, however, from appointing commissioners who were members of the bar, judiciary, or spouses of members of the bar or judiciary.

The Senate Judiciary Committee rewrote most of the bill. The SCS (Senate Committee Substitute) shifts control of selection to appellate judicial nominating commission to governor. First, it revokes effective January 15, 2013 the terms of office for all current members of the appellate judicial commission.

Thereafter, the composition would change as follows:

Current

  • 1 Supreme Court Judge, chosen by court
  • 3 attorneys, chosen by bar, one per court of appeals district
  • 3 non-attorneys, chosen by governor, one per court of appeals district

 Proposed

  • 1 non-voting retired appellate judge (who did NOT lose a retention election or been removed from office for cause), chose by Supreme Court
  • 4 voting individuals, chosen by governor, one per court of appeals district, plus one statewide (may or may not be attorney); their terms would be staggered so an incoming governor would be able to replace 2 immediately and the other 2 half-way through his or her term
  • 3 voting attorneys, chosen by bar, one per court of appeals district

Moreover, it increases from 3 to 4 the number of names to be submitted to the governor to fill a vacancy.

Perhaps even more interesting that the SCS itself were the proposed floor amendments. All failed, and all can found in the Senate Journal from pages 847-850, here.

Amendment 1 would have required the 4 individuals chosen by the Governor to the appellate nominating commission be subject to Senate confirmation.

Amendment 2 would have changed the state’s Supreme Court power over the allocation of judicial resources. Currently, the state constitution allows the legislature to set court of appeals and other districts. Amendment 2 specified the number of judicial positions must be set by law and that any supreme court order to create a number greater than set by statute was “null and void”. It would have specified that the Supreme Court could make permanent transfers of judicial positions from circuit to circuit (the constitution already specifies the power¬† of the Supreme Court to make temporary transfers) but that every circuit was required to have at least 1 circuit judge and every county at least 1 associate circuit judges.

Amendment 3 would have made the date on which the existing judicial commissions were emptied 2016 rather than 2015.

Amendment 4 would have cut the commission down from 7 + 1 non-voting to 6 + 1 non-voting by eliminating the governor’s state-at-large pick. The effect would have been for the governor to have 3 seats and the bar 3.

Amendment 5 would have required the commission members release all communications regarding the commission’s work.

Each voting member of the appellate judicial commission shall keep a record of all oral, written and electronic communications relating to the official business of the commission received while a member of such commission from any person not a member of the  commission. Such records shall include the name, address, employer and date of such communication. All such records shall be a public record.

With all 5 amendments having failed, the bill met with initial approval by the full Senate and could be taken up at any time.