Kander approves 2 petitions on judge selection

Secretary of State Jason Kander this week approved two petitions for circulation that propose changes in the way that Missouri Supreme Court and appeals court judges are chosen.

Supporters now have until 5 p.m. May 4, 2014, to gather enough registered voters’ signatures to put the proposals onto Nov. 4, 2014, general election ballot.

John Elliott of Smithville submitted the two proposals in August.

Currently, Supreme and appeals court judges are appointed by the governor from a group of three nominees submitted by a special, seven-member commission that includes three members appointed by the governor and three lawyers elected by Missouri Bar members.

Each commissioner serves a six-year term, and only one is chosen each year. The seventh commissioner is a current Supreme Court judge, usually the chief justice.

Kander said Wednesday the ballot title is the same for both petitions, which seek to:

• repeal the nonpartisan court plan for higher court judges;

• require those judges be elected in partisan elections with nominees from political parties;

• allow judges or judicial candidates to solicit, receive and make any legal campaign contributions or expenditures;

• decrease higher court judges’ terms from 12 years to 8; and

• increase the number of Supreme Court judges to nine.

The auditor’s fiscal note cites an estimated annual inrease in operating costs starting at $1.1 million and initial equipment costs, and one time building construction and renovation costs of up to $6.2 million for space for the additional judges and staff.

The petitions have slight differences, with one proposing to have one Supreme Court judge elected from each of the state’s eight congressional districts, with a statewide election for the ninth judge.

The other proposal would elect three of the high court judges from each of the appellate court’s three districts — Western Missouri, which includes Cole, Callaway, Boone, Moniteau, Morgan and Miller counties; Eastern Missouri, which includes Osage and Gasconade counties; and Southern Missouri, which includes Camden and Maries counties.

To place a proposed constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot, supporters must gather signatures of registered voters equal to at least 8 percent of the total votes cast in the 2012 governor’s election, from at least six of the state’s eight congressional districts.

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