Our Opinion: Reject Amendment 3; leave court plan intact

An indicator of an awful amendment is non-support from supporters.

Constitutional Amendment 3 on Tuesday’s ballot would alter Missouri’s Nonpartisan Court Plan, approved by voters in 1940 as a process to select judges for the state’s Supreme, appellate and selected circuit courts.

The amendment’s backers ended active campaigning in early October, after failing to win a court judgment challenging the ballot language as unfair.

Under the existing court plan, the governor selects a judge from a slate of nominees advanced by a selection panel. The seven-member panel for the appeals and Supreme Court vacancies includes: a Supreme Court judge (usually the chief justice); three non-lawyer residents appointed by the governor every other year, to serve six-year staggered terms; and three lawyers, elected every other year by members of the Missouri Bar in their region, also to serve six-year staggered terms.

During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers advanced — by slim majorities in both chambers — the changes to be voted on Tuesday.

The changes include: replacing the high court judge with a non-voting retired judge; increasing the number of governor-appointed residents from three to four; and allowing the governor to appoint all four resident members during the four-year term, rather than naming only one member every other year. The lawyers’ elections wouldn’t change.

Amendment supporters were miffed by the ballot language, which they contend unfairly focused on the governor’s increased role.

But that language accurately reflects the major change.

When a judge also rejected the proponents’ quarrel, they packed up their support and went home.

In the final analysis, the proposed amendment would not accomplish their ultimate goal, which is to eliminate the court plan and replace it with direct elections.

Amendment 3 falls short of that goal; it simply would weaken, but not eliminate, the plan.

The Nonpartisan Court Plan has served Missouri well for more than 70 years. In addition, it has served as a model for other states.

The impetus for the plan, and its major virtue, is it minimizes the role of politics in judicial selection.

The amendment’s key drawback is the transfer of power to the executive branch — diluting the time-honored concept of three separate, but equal, branches of government.

The proposal is an ill-conceived, and dangerous, constitutional change even its supporters have abandoned.

We encourage voters on Tuesday to reject Amendment 3.


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