Chief Justice Laura Denvir Stith
JEFFERSON CITY -- Missouri Supreme Court Justice Laura Denvir Stith's honeymoon as the state's newest Chief Justice was short and swift.
Stith took over as Chief Justice on Friday for a two-year term following the end of Justice Michael Wolff's time at the top. Both Justices were placed on the bench by former Democratic Gov. Bob Holden.
But over the weekend, Stith was forced to defend a 'non-partisan' judicial selection process that will choose a new state Supreme Court Justice in the next few months. Conservative and GOP lawmakers say the current system is rigged in favor of liberals and Democrats.
Stith forms part of what conservatives and Republicans consider an "activist" majority block on the state Supreme Court. She voted with them in a recent school-unionization case that current Republican Gov. Matt Blunt called a "terrible ruling".
In a press release last month he called the school union decision, which Stith voted for, "yet another example of judicial activism, where a court's action oversteps the bounds of prudent Constitutional interpretation."
Blunt is currently under pressure to deliver a conservative-friendly Supreme Court Justice to replace the recently-retired Ronnie White. White, appointed by Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan in 1995, was also considered part of the Supreme Court's activist bloc.
Gov. Blunt will be the first GOP leader to appoint a Missouri Supreme Court Justice in 15 years. Under an arrangement called the 'Missouri Plan', first adopted in 1940, Blunt receives three 'finalist' nominees handed him by the Appellate Judicial Commission, which Stith now heads.
Blunt already has indicated he wants a slate of more conservative nominees this time.
"I am committed to appointing a Missouri Supreme Court judge who will faithfully interpret our constitution and will not legislate from the bench," he stated shortly after White's resignation. He has since reiterated that desire.
Some GOP lawmakers already have their finger on the trigger.
"If the governor gets three very liberal Democrats, I think it's going to expose that the [Missouri Plan] just isn't working," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bryan Pratt, R-Blue Springs, told the St Louis Post-Dispatch today.
But Stith is a major judicial supporter of the Missouri Plan, which has been adopted by 30 other states.
"What we have is truly a nonpartisan court plan," she told the Kansas City Star over the weekend. "It takes politics out of that process and avoids that kind of political debate."
The deadline for nominations to the Missouri Supreme Court is next Monday, July 9. The Commission will conduct interviews July 24-25 and will then give Blunt three names, from which he then has 60 days to choose one.