The National Center for State Courts has an archive of 2011, 2010, and previous years State of the Judiciary addresses located here.
The annual Missouri State of the Judiciary address was, under HCR 2 of 2011, suppose to have been delivered on February 2 of this year. However, a snow storm forced the legislature to suspend operations: the House never met and the Senate had a pro forma session.
The speech by Chief Justice William Ray Price, Jr., himself a former state legislator, (update: when the Chief Justice referred to having “served here for nearly 18 years”, the “here” meant was the Supreme Court, not the legislature) was ultimately delivered on February 9 to joint legislative session (HCR 24 directed a joint session for that date).
Highlights of the Chief Justice’s speech (full text here) included:
I never have seen a more challenging time for our state. Regardless of political philosophy, one thing is clear. Significant cuts have been made and will be made to Missouri’s budget. To the extent necessary and possible, the courts have shared and will continue to share in spending reductions without complaint.
There are two specific concerns I want to talk with you about. I spoke about them last year, and they are still the two most important issues that we face together for the future of Missouri. One calls for action; one does not.
First, we continue to over-incarcerate nonviolent offenders, while we have failed to expand drug courts and other diversionary and reentry programs to capacity. The result is a state that is not as safe as we want it to be and a waste of taxpayer dollars….Punishment is a necessary part of our criminal justice system. But our real goal for nonviolent offenders is to teach them their lesson so they can become productive law-abiding members of our society. The goal is not to lock them into a life of crime, to make them permanent wards of the state on an installment program of incarceration after incarceration, at $16,400 per year.
Drug courts are one of the best examples of tough, effective, local alternatives to prisons. Depending on the study, between 60 and 80 percent of people in prison are there for drug-related crimes or have drug or alcohol issues…With your help, we have expanded drug courts and DWI courts across Missouri. Unfortunately, they are still underfunded by half. We barely have scratched the surface with family drug courts and reentry courts.
From a moral, a fiscal and a law-and-order perspective, drug courts, DWI courts, juvenile diversion programs, veterans courts, reentry courts and community supervision strategies are better investments of taxpayer money, for their target populations, than prisons.
The second major issue that I want to talk with you about is a fair and impartial judiciary.
It is not easy finding justice. Justice is not a physical thing that you can touch or hold or measure. Often it is shaped by the eye of the beholder and, often, relative to the beholder’s particular point of view. What seems just to one may seem unjust to another. A good judge must have the courage to accept that not all people will see justice as he or she does. Sometimes, a good judge must have the courage to risk the anger of the majority, to protect the rights of the individual ? rights that we prize and that are guaranteed by our national and state constitutions.
Our job is different than yours. You serve the majority. You make broad policy decisions that apply to everyone. You make campaign promises and are expected to uphold them…Our job is more limited. We rule individual case by individual case. Whether it is a case for a business fighting for its economic life, a crippled plaintiff who no longer can support himself or his family, parents fighting for the custody of a loved child, or a person accused of a crime with his liberty or life at stake, we rule individual case by individual case, with each individual having only that one chance for justice. In every case, someone loses. Fairness, impartiality and a level playing field, not subject to outside influence or manipulation, not dependent on a preexisting promise, are the absolute necessity.
With this in mind, we need to talk about the Missouri Plan for selecting judges. The plan was adopted by the people of Missouri by initiative petition in 1940. It was in response to the Pendergast political machine’s attempt to control the Supreme Court of Missouri. It was a plan established by the people to protect their courts from political manipulation and control…The brilliance of the Missouri Plan is that it balances the need for legal ability, everyday common sense and responsibility to the people, in a way that preserves the integrity and the fairness and the impartiality of the judge.
The worst alternative is direct elections of judges. The reason is simple. Money. The amount of money involved in conducting statewide races will destroy the public’s perception, and perhaps the actual integrity, of our judicial system….Another suggestion is to adopt a plan modeled after the federal system. That, too, is problematic. Federal judges have life tenure; they are not subject to retention votes.
In the past two years, the Court has taken great strides to increase the transparency of the Missouri Plan to make it more open to the people. Last year, we amended the rules to release the names of the applicants. This year, we amended the rules to open the interview process to the public, to release the final vote for the panel of nominees and to encourage nominations directly from the public.
Justice is sacred but fragile. It belongs to the people, not to either political party, not to any special interest. A system of justice is necessary to support our economy and to preserve our individual rights and freedoms. A system of justice can exist only so long as the people have trust and confidence that it is fair and impartial. Any proposed change to the Missouri Plan should be considered only with the greatest care and caution. I am afraid that it is more likely that any change will bring more harm than good.