Beetem upholds ballot summary for court measure

A Cole County judge on Monday upheld the ballot summary for a proposed constitutional amendment dealing with the appointment of state appellate judges.

Circuit Judge Jon Beetem said in his ruling the summary developed by Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan is “sufficient and fair as a matter of law” and does not require revision.

Beetem said the summary does not include every detail or all possible outcomes, but neither is required. In addition, Beetem wrote “there is no question that a better summary statement could have been submitted” but did not specifically lay out possible changes.

Critics of Carnahan’s summary argued her version was inaccurate and unfair. They contend it failed to sufficiently or fairly describe the measure’s main purpose and wrongly suggests the measure would create a new process for judicial selection. They filed a lawsuit in July and asked the courts to revise the summary that will appear before voters on Election Day.

The proposed constitutional amendment would change the composition of a state commission responsible for nominating finalists for vacancies on the Missouri Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. The measure also would increase the number of judicial finalists submitted to the governor from three to four.

Currently, the nominating commission consists of three members of the Missouri Bar, three gubernatorial appointees who cannot be members of the Missouri Bar and a Supreme Court judge. Under the proposal, the judge would be replaced with a fourth gubernatorial selectee, and governors would be allowed to appoint lawyers to the commission. In addition, a former appellate judge would serve as a nonvoting member.

Carnahan said Monday the court ruling supports her office’s position the summary is fair and sufficient and that it would help prevent delays in printing and mailing ballots. Ballots for those serving in the military must be ready by Sept. 22, and absentee ballots must be available Sept. 25.

Eddie Greim, an attorney representing the critics, said they are disappointed and plan to appeal.

The Republican-led Legislature passed the proposed courts constitutional amendment earlier this year, and voters will decide Nov. 6 whether to enact it. Because the Legislature did not write a ballot summary, the responsibility fell to Carnahan.

Carnahan’s summary states: “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to change the current nonpartisan selection of supreme court and court of appeals judges to a process that gives the governor increased authority to:

• Appoint a majority of the commission that selects these court nominees, and

• Appoint all lawyers to the commission by removing the requirement that the governor’s appointees be non-lawyers?”

The summary’s critics contend the second point is a hypothetical. They said the governor could choose to appoint four lawyers to the nominating commission but that it also is possible the governor would appoint no attorneys.

A group called Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts that is opposing the proposed constitutional amendment praised Beetem’s ruling and said the measure would make judges beholden to politicians and political agendas.

Another organization, Better Courts for Missouri, supports the constitutional amendment and called Carnahan’s summary undeniably biased and misleading while predicting it would lead to voter misunderstanding about the measure’s purpose.

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