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Brett Emison
Brett Emison
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Missouri Supreme Court Judge William Ray Price, Jr. To Retire From Bench

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Judge Ray Price To Retire, Become "Working Lawyer"The Honorable William Ray Price, Jr., currently the longest serving judge on the Missouri Supreme Court announced his retirement this week. In his resignation letter, Judge Price recounted his honor in serving on the Supreme Court for 20 years. He also wrote that he was proud of the many Missouri judges with whom he had served and their commitment to fair and impartial administration of justice.

Judge Price was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1992 by Governor John Ashcroft after merit-based selection under the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan. He served two terms as Chief Justice (1999-2001 and 2009-2011).

Judge Price was my first boss after law school. My time working with him was invaluable. Having worked for Judge Price as a law clerk, I know firsthand his dedication to justice and fairness. I know how hard he has worked to decide tough cases; to garner consensus when possible; and to dissent with passion when necessary. I wish him and his family all of the best as he transitions back to being, as he described, a "working lawyer."

A long time advocate for eliminating politics in judicial selection, Judge Price based the timing of his retirement, at least in part, on his desire to have his successor selected under the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan, which is under attack by corporate special interests and may be altered by a constitutional amendment this fall.

Because I wish to have the best judges possible in Missouri, I want my successor to be appointed by the same Missouri non-partisan merit plan that has served our state so well over the past 70 years.

Despite the Missouri Plan's success in keeping politics and special interest influence out of the courtroom, the Missouri Plan has been under attack by special interest groups that wish to influence and control the judiciary rather than abide by it.

The Missouri Plan – a plan in which judges are selected for service based on non-partisan merit selection – was enacted after Missouri citizens voted to amend the constitution in the 1940s. The Missouri Plan is one for the people and by the people. The Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan was adopted because citizens were fed up with political cronyism and politics in the courthouse. Namely, notorious"Boss Tom" Pendergast, who ran the Democratic Party in Missouri during the 1920s and 1930s, also controlled the judiciary.

Rush Limbaugh's grandfather — "the original" Rush Limbaugh — successfully led the citizen's initiative petition drive to end partisan control of the judiciary in favor of merit selection of judges. Under the Missouri Plan, appellate judges and trial judges in metropolitan counties electing to participate in the Missouri Plan, judges are selected by a commission consisting of 3 attorneys elected by members of the Missouri Bar Association; 3 citizen members appointed by the governor (serving 6-year staggered terms); and a currently sitting judge. The panel selects from those submitting applications themselves or nominated by others for the vacant position. The process has worked essentially the same way for more than 50 years and led the country as more than 30 other states have adopted the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan in one form or another.

Special interest groups led an effort in the Missouri legislature to eliminate the Missouri Plan. This fall, Missouri voters will decide if Missouri should continue under the non-partisan merit selection plan or give control of the judiciary to partisan influence and special interest groups. The proposed amendment eliminates the Missouri Plan by giving complete control of the nominating commission to a single term governor.

"These efforts are not really to change, improve or reform judicial selection. They are about intimidation, pure and simple. These legislators and their interest-group sponsors do not want a better judiciary – they want their own judiciary. Who needs checks and balances? The only checks that matter are those that are deposited in campaign accounts."

– Fmr. Missouri Chief Justice Michael Wolff

An independent judiciary – a judiciary free of undue political influence, cronyism, and special interests – is the cornerstone and linchpin for our constitutional freedoms. Our freedom and liberty are threatened If cases are influenced by special interests and political influence instead of simply the facts and the law.

[More on the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan]

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