I noted yesterday that Better Courts for Missouri refrained from criticizing Secretary of State Robin Carnahan's ballot summary language for a constitutional amendment scrapping a system of appointing some of the Show Me State's judges.
That's noteworthy because it could mean the group might refrain from filing a lawsuit against the summary language. Other groups pushing hot-button ballot items have drained away money and time challenging Carnahan's ballot summary language.
But that doesn't necessarily mean that there won't be a court fight over the proposal.
Chip Robertson, a Kansas City attorney who used serve on the Missouri Supreme Court, said today proponents of the current judicial selection system are taking a look whether there's a basis for a legal challenge. Robertson has been an outspoken supporter of the current system of selection some judges.
"If there is, we're going to do it," Robertson said. "And if there's not, we're going to prepare to defeat this [amendment]."
In the current system, a commission present three choices to the governor when there's a vacancy. The governor can either pick one of the finalist or let the commission make the selection. The person picked is immediately installed as a judge.
The proposed amendment would resemble the federal model. Governors would pick the nominees and the Missouri Senate would vote for approval.
There's a roughly ten day window where parties can sue after a measure has been certified for the ballot. If a challenge doesn't occur or is unsuccessful, proponents of throwing out the current plan will have to collect enough signatures to get on next year's ballot. The deadline is May 2010.
James Harris, the executive director of Better Courts for Missouri, said yesterday he wouldn't be surprised if a lawsuit was filed against the ballot item.
"I'm sure they would love to try and delay us and to try to use the courts to prevent or deny Missourians the right to vote on this," Harris said. "If the Missouri Plan is perfect and works well and is a national example, why do they work so hard to deny it?"
Asked to respond to the charge that filing a lawsuit against the ballot item would be a stalling maneuver, Robertson said opponents of the current system know that lawyers "can't file frivolous lawsuits."
"[Harris] doesn't understand that when you amend the constitution, it's the single most important document in the state," Robertson said. "The people who want to amend it and do so without the benefit of the normal legislative process need to be at least as careful as the people who are doing it in the normal legislative process."
"If there are fundamental flaws in the document that they've submitted, which in effect would make the thing difficult to interpret down the road or even implement, it leaves some questions out there," Robertson added.
Getcha popcorn ready. This one is going to be a doozy.