Almost 80 years ago, Missouri legislators developed a plan for choosing judges. It was originally called the “Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan” and it was seen as an impartial way to fill vacancies based on merit rather than political affiliation. Today, it’s simply referred to as The Missouri Plan. And The Missouri Plan has been so successful, 34 states have adopted some form of it for choosing their judges.
Here’s how The Missouri Plan works. When a judicial vacancy occurs, a non-partisan panel of 7 people interviews a large pool of qualified candidates and then pares that list down to three finalists. The Governor then selects one to fill the vacancy. Three people on the panel are lawyers appointed by the Missouri Bar, three are citizens chosen by the Governor and the seventh is the Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, who chairs the panel. Because judicial nominees are chosen largely without favoring one political party over another, The Missouri Plan has served our state well.
But now, Republican Governor Eric Greitens wants to change the Missouri Plan to make it easier for his office to appoint judges without input from panels of citizens or attorneys. A spokesperson for Greitens said, “Eric is opposed to our current system of judicial selection that gives trial lawyers too much control over the appointment of the very judges they argue cases in front of.”
Sounds plausible, right? If only Greitens was that noble and his motives so pure. His real motive is to stock the courts with Republicans so as to protect the interests of business owners. And when that happens, the plaintiff, the person who is injured, often loses. So what’s behind the push for this change? The political influence of Trial Lawyers.
Trial lawyers mostly back Democrats because Democrats generally support the rights of injured workers and consumers to sue businesses for defective products, discrimination or workplace violations. We believe if you’re injured from a machine that malfunctions, or you’re discriminated against in your employment, or you’re hurt in a workplace accident, you should be able to collect wages equal to the income you’ve lost plus the cost of medical care, if necessary, to bring you back to health.
Business owners mostly back Republicans, who consistently have made it more difficult to sue or collect reasonable damages. If Greitens gets his wish and scraps The Missouri Plan, watch for him to load the courts with more Republican-leaning judges. And that begs the question: Will the Courts be fair to you under the Greitens Plan?
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