JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) – A bill in the Missouri Senate would take partisanship out of rural judicial races. Instead of running as Democrats or Republicans, judges would run with no party affiliation, as most city council and school board candidates do.
Supporters of the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, say it takes politics out of the judicial selection process and focuses on the candidate’s qualifications.
Opponents say that party affiliation tells voters certain things about candidates.
Engler’s bill seems to coincide with the message sent by Missouri’s Chief Justice William Price in his State of the Judiciary speech to lawmakers last week.
“In every case, someone loses,” Price said. “Fairness, impartiality and a level playing field – not subject to outside influence or manipulation, not dependent on a pre-existing promise – are the absolute necessity.”
Rather than elections, judges in St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield already are selected through The Missouri Plan, in which a committee of three lawyers, three citizens and the court’s chief judge submits a list of candidates to the governor, who makes the final choice.
Critics of the Missouri Plan say it puts too much power in judicial selection into the hands of trial lawyers.