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‘Missouri Plan’ removes vital check on judges
by Ira Hansen
Mar 29, 2008 | 787 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Are judges “selected” less susceptible to corruption than those elected? The “Missouri plan,” first put in place in 1940, is a method of judicial selection controlled, in large part, by the same groups resurrecting it now: the legal community, led by longtime believer Bill Raggio, Esq., whose cronies tried to remove from the Washoe GOP platform an anti-Missouri plan plank during the county convention.

Frankly, they are beating a dead horse. Every time the issue has been on the ballot the people have strongly rejected the “appointment is better” argument.

The Missouri plan works like this: When a judicial vacancy occurs, a nominating committee, whose members are appointed by the state bar association, the governor and a member of the state supreme court select three candidates. The governor then appoints one of the three. At the next election, the gubernatorial appoin-tee’s name is placed, unopposed, on the ballot, and the people vote to approve or reject the judge. The vote is not necessarily binding.

This system excludes the judges from the hassles of running for office, and thus, the people are spared the often embarrassing conduct so prominently displayed in judicial elections.

Now the downside. By removing the direct election process, the ordinary citizens are removed from the loop. Lawyers, the governor, and the supreme court will do the picking, which sounds great – if you’re a lawyer, governor, or on the supreme court. It also sounds great if you’ve helped the governor get (re)elected, are a prominent member of his political party, or have been a good little lawyer who didn’t rock the boat and incur the wrath of bar association officials.

In short, it allows the “good old boy” network to flourish and reward toadies with judgeships. The more pugnacious types, who are likely to buck the system, will find themselves excluded. This in turn will act as leverage to insure that a de facto discipline is maintained, at least for those hoping to climb the legal and/or political ladder.

Perhaps the worst example of the appointment style of selection is the federal court system. Case in point: the U.S. Supreme Court. Officially, it’s neutral, politically speaking. Anybody actually believe that? Reality is, the whole selection process is nothing but political.

The best thing that could happen to the federal court system is to somehow involve the people more directly, perhaps through the ballot. Many claim that would “corrupt our judicial system,” but the truth is, the current system reeks of corruption, with federal judges, who, with their lifetime appointments, act as an oligarchy, untouchable by the people at large. Ordinary folks have no recourse to amend or correct decisions that go far beyond the constitutional constraints placed by the founding fathers on the judicial branch. There is no “check” or “balance” on federal judges.

But suppose they had to answer to the people every, say, four years, and justify their decisions. The court of public opinion would find many of them guilty, and rightfully so. The downward evolution of our current system, which is grossly distorted towards protecting the rights of convicted criminals and the social programs cherished by liberals, would be undone and, along with it, a much safer and more balanced society would emerge.

To remove the people from directly electing judges here in Nevada would be a mistake. The flaws are few and, objectively speaking, are frequently the results of the candidates’ chosen behaviors. By and large, the voters have done a very good job.

There is a certain air of arrogance in people pushing the Missouri system. Somehow, they and their political lackeys know what’s best for the rest of us – we the people are just too dumb to come up with good judges. It would be interesting for them to name names and say just which judges are so terrible that have been chosen by the unwashed masses. The lawyers already control to a large extent the selection process since, by law, you must be an attorney to hold most judicial offices in Nevada. How much further would they exclude the people?

And, who works for whom? Somehow many officials seem to forget they’re hired hands, tending the chores as defined by the people. The judicial system is to serve the people, not the other way around. The election process helps remind them of that. If appointed, who do you think they would be more responsive to: the bar association, the governor, the supreme court or the people?

I rest my case.

Ira Hansen is a lifelong resident of Sparks, owner of Ira Hansen and Sons Plumbing and his radio talk show can be heard Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. on 99.1 FM.
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