JEFFERSON CITY -- Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt's unheralded decision last week to elevate an Appeals Court judge to the state's Supreme Court could turn controversial.
Blunt announced Friday he had appointed Judge Patricia Breckenridge to fill a vacancy created by Judge Ronnie White's recent retirement. Blunt was the first GOP governor to make a Supreme Court pick since John Ashcroft in 1993.
Breckenridge, twice elevated as a judge by GOP governors, was easily the most experienced of the three names handed Blunt by Missouri's Appellate Judicial Commission (AJC), LNL reported July 26. But Blunt made clear he was unhappy with the judicial choice offered him by the AJC.
Republican lawmakers and conservative state pressure groups like the Adam Smith Foundation (ASF) later charged the AJC with secrecy and liberal bias. The ASF recently posted a report criticizing the AJC's deliberations over the three nominees.
In his statement confirming Breckenridge's elevation, Blunt called her "the best candidate of the three candidates submitted to me by the Appellate Judicial Commission."
But he also added: "I cannot be certain that any judge selected by this Appellate Judicial Commission will follow the judicial philosophy of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts, who I believe should be a model."
One day before Blunt's announcement, national social conservatives were already hammering the governor for what they considered a cave-in on the Supreme Court Justice issue.
A National Review blogsite recently posted a memo accusing Breckenridge of closet liberalism and Blunt of not being a "principled conservative" for choosing her. It was signed by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation and Kay Daly of the Coalition for a Fair Judiciary.
The memo, entitled "Conservatives declare was on Gov. Blunt," accused him of "a 180 degree flip" by appointing Breckenridge after decrying her nomination for weeks. "He is abandoning conservatives in Missouri and nationally with this decision," the three warned.
Breckenridge has served on the Missouri Court of Appeals for 17 years following appointment by former Gov. John Ashcroft in 1990. She was most recently re-elected for a second 12-year term at the Court of Appeals in 2004.