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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Missouri Supreme Court: Help Wanted

Posted By on Thu, Jun 9, 2011 at 9:00 AM

Are those the current Missouri Supreme Court judges?
  • Are those the current Missouri Supreme Court judges?

Since the Missouri Supreme Court's establishment in 1820, 116 people have served as judges. But only one of them, former judge Ronnie White, was a person of color.

That may change this fall, when Gov. Jay Nixon names a successor to Judge Michael A. Wolff, who is retiring on August 11 after thirteen years on the bench. Nixon, appointing his first Supreme Court judge, will be choosing from a panel of three nominees selected by the state's Appellate Judicial Commission. And, according to the commission, you can have your say too, because they are currently accepting nominations.

"The idea is that, if there is a citizen out there who knows of an attorney who they think would be good for the judicial vacancy, then they can nominate that person," says Beth Riggert, the Supreme Court's communications counsel.

This isn't a madhouse, though. They aren't just taking anybody. There are a few requirements: The potential judge must be at least 30 years old, licensed to practice law in Missouri, a qualified Missouri voter for at least nine years and a United States citizen for at least fifteen years. (Although, "I don't believe we require a long-form birth certificate," says Riggert.)

The court's historically snow-white composition is something that august body is, at minimum, aware of. Demographic data on judicial nominees has only been available in Missouri since February 2008, when the Supreme Court, under then-Chief Justice Laura Stith, enacted a rule requiring the commission to track that information.

In the only vacancy since, in August 2008, six of the twenty-three applicants were persons of color. But while one of the three finalists, Judge Lisa White Hardwick, is black, the seat ended up going to Judge Zel Fischer -- who is, yes, white.

The Appellate Judicial Commission is a seven-person panel made up of the state's Chief Justice and six lawyers chosen by the bar association and the governor. Currently, all of its seven members are white, too. (Although, for the record, the head of the panel, Judge Richard Teitelman, is legally blind.)

The commission will interview candidates August 30 through September 1 at the Supreme Court Building in Jefferson City before selecting the finalists to recommend to the governor. And this being America, land of freedom and transparency, the interviews will be open to the public for the first time.

They'll be taking submissions until 5 p.m. July 8. Feel free to nominate your favorite morally robust and legally qualified American by emailing the commission at Perhaps you even know of a worthy minority candidate to push -- whether the Guv'nor is prepared to choose one or not, you surely wouldn't be alone in suggesting Missouri is long overdue.

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