AG candidate Will Scharf: Scrap ‘Missouri Plan’ cranking out liberal judges, crack down on crime, get conservative values over the finish line

Missouri needs to dump the Missouri Plan for the selection of judges, as it’s allowed a third of the state government to be hijacked by a liberal “cartel.”

That’s the resolute view held by Will Scharf, an appellate attorney for former President Donald Trump who is running for Missouri attorney general in the August Republican primary election.

The Missouri Plan, written into the state constitution in 1940 and adopted in some form since then by other states, allows the Missouri Bar Association to choose up to three nominees that the governor has no choice but to appoint from to fill a judgeship in much of the state.

The system — used for appellate courts and in circuit courts in St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield — may have helped weed out corruption such as during the Pendergast Era in Kansas City, but in recent decades has only lurched the judiciary oddly and incongruously to the left in a state that voted for Trump 57% in the past two presidential elections.

“We have three branches of government in this state,” Scharf said in an exclusive interview with The Heartlander. “And with respect to one of them, with respect to the courts, we’ve said that for the most important judges we are going to turn over selection of those judges effectively to a cartel, to the Missouri Bar Association – we’re going to give a single profession a privileged position with respect to picking a third of our government.  

“I just don’t think that’s fair, and I think that’s anti-democratic. And I don’t think it makes sense. In practice, things have gone even further off the rails because those bar seats have been monopolized by the trial lawyers for a very long time now. It’s shifted our judiciary far to the left.

“When you look at [Gov. Mike} Parson’s three picks to the [Supreme] Court, he even did a bad job picking among the panelists that he got. But under total Republican control of the state, our courts have shifted further to the left than they’ve been in decades. And that doesn’t match what I think the people of Missouri want. It doesn’t match the outcomes that I think we want out of our judiciary, in terms of having a judiciary that respects our Constitution, that respects the rule of law.”

The Missouri Plan’s out-of-step, assembly-line-production of leftist judges has gone a long way toward exacerbating the state’s crime problem, Scharf argues. 

“The ramifications have been dire. I think one of the biggest drivers of the crime rates we’ve seen in recent years has been this push by the judiciary, by the Missouri Supreme Court, to drop cash bail requirements and to generally loosen bail and pretrial detention all over the state. This is a diktat that’s been handed down by the Missouri Supreme Court that judges all over the state have been willing to follow along with. 

“And it’s just an example of how far things have gone off the rails in terms of our judiciary in this state. So, whether it’s elections, whether it’s direct gubernatorial appointment with confirmation by the Senate, I think there are much better ways to pick our judges.”

Scharf, educated at Princeton and then Harvard Law, should know: He was part of the confirmation teams for U.S. Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

“We were pretty good at picking good conservative judges who are going to respect the Constitution, who are going to respect the rule of law, who are going to issue good decisions in line with those expectations. And the Missouri Plan seems to have yielded the absolute opposite result. I think it’s long past due for us to seriously consider scrapping the Missouri Plan.”

The Missouri Bar Association claims the Missouri Plan produces “high-quality judges in the least political way.”

“Oh, I think that’s absolute garbage,” Scharf says, noting the process has been “captured” by left-leaning trial and plaintiffs’ lawyers. He notes that by a 2-1 margin the best conservative supreme courts in other states aren’t chosen through the Missouri Plan, which he says yields “mediocre, left-wing courts.”


‘Shells of what they once were’

A “profound” problem with growing crime is the first issue Scharf mentions as part of his campaign for AG.

“Under this mantra of local control, the sort of careerist politicians in Jefferson City have allowed our cities, and now increasingly rural areas as well, to just descend to shells of what they once were. You have states that are really looking at this crime issue in a much more direct, aggressive way than Missouri is. 

“Given how conservative our state is, I think it’s shameful that we haven’t seen real efforts at, for example, conservative bail and custody reform, truth-in-sentencing laws, state control of the police in St. Louis along the lines of what you have in Kansas City. 

“These are all, to me, core bedrock responsibilities of government – ensuring that crime is properly punished and that the citizenry is protected. And yet, Jefferson City has just been totally asleep at the wheel there. 

“And it’s not a new problem; it’s one that’s been going on for the better part of a decade now, where we’ve had Republican control but a Republican unwillingness to get into difficult, complicated issues.”

A former federal prosecutor and policy advisor to former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, Scharf also cites as priorities fighting woke indoctrination in public schools and the need for broader school choice.

“Our schools are peddling woke garbage. And meanwhile, kids can’t read or do basic math. People are really fed up.” As for education freedom, he says, “You have states that are far to the left of Missouri that seem to be able to get things done in a way that we can’t.”

Though he’s running for attorney general, and not a policy-making seat in the Legislature, Scharf says “I would really like to help be an agenda-setting voice for conservative principles, for conservative policies in Jefferson City, and speak out on issues like crime reform, like school choice. I mean, these are the core issues that will define the future of our state. And right now I think we’re just not getting it done.

“We’re getting lapped by Arkansas at this point. [Gov.] Sarah Huckabee Sanders, she came into office and she laid down the law, and she said ‘this is what we’re going to get done.’ And then they went out and did it. We’ve never seen that kind of leadership in Jefferson City for as long as I’ve been paying attention to Missouri politics, certainly.”


Missourians ‘deeply dissatisfied’ with status quo

In his campaign travels, Scharf says he’s heard from people in every corner of the state who are “just deeply dissatisfied with the Jefferson City status quo – with lobbyist and special-interest capture of our government, with this dynamic where we keep electing Republicans and yet we don’t seem to be able to drive real conservative policy in this state.

“Looking out at the state, I don’t understand why every year these lobbyist-driven omnibus bills get shoved through at the end of session – these massive, likely unconstitutional omnibus bills with random provisions that I doubt most legislators even understand or have read. 

“And yet, real conservative priorities just get dropped year after year after year.”

One of those conservative priorities that keeps falling through the cracks, he says, is reform in the initiative/petition process that allows a mere majority of voters to get constitutional amendments on the ballot. “This is something the conservative base in the state really wants, and yet Jefferson City keeps dropping the ball.

“I think the idea that a bare majority of Missourians can amend our Constitution, I just don’t think that’s the right way to do it, just from a ‘first principles’ standpoint. And I think that’s why we’ve seen things like 200 pages of intricate marijuana regulations making it into our constitution. I don’t think that’s what the people who set up Missouri’s constitutional system intended. I don’t think that’s what the people of Missouri really want. I think legislation should move through the legislature, not through the initiative/petition process. 

“And we’ve seen left-wing dark money groups from outside the state – probably most notably Arabella Advisors – effect state policy through this IP system in a way that I think is just at variance with good governance, with good constitutional design, with the way things should be.”

The dark money issue is one Scharf says he’d prioritize.

“I think we need to start investigating these left-wing dark money groups that are seeding chaos in our state. The AG’s office, through both the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act and Missouri nonprofit law, has a lot of leeway in investigating those sorts of groups, and so far we haven’t really used it. I’d like to take a long, hard look at that.”


Personal property tax, government overreach

He also favors doing away with the state’s personal property tax, which he says “most of our peer states” have eliminated. “Missourians seem to hate it. It’s not a huge driver of local revenue. Why is this thing still on the books?”

Scharf has earned big-time endorsements from the Club for Growth; Leonard Leo, co-chairman of the Federal Society; Charlie Kirk of Turning Point and Turning Point Action; and leading national conservative radio voice Mark Levin.

But he says it’s ordinary Missourians whose endorsement he is most excited about.

“The endorsements I’m most proud of are just the endorsements of good conservatives all across the state of Missouri. As we’ve gotten around the state, it’s been incredible to see people waking up and really taking an interest in how their state’s governed, and calling for exactly the kind of conservative reform that we’re calling for. 

“You can talk about endorsements all day long. I’m proud to be supported by good conservative groups and public figures, but more importantly I’m proud to be supported by conservatives all across the state.

“I think the principal job of the attorney general is to protect the rights of Missourians, whether that’s protecting the rights of Missourians against an overreaching federal government, whether that’s protecting the rights of Missourians against overreaching state and local bureaucrats, whether that’s protecting the rights of Missourians against local school districts and local governments doing illegal things – or whether that’s protecting the rights of Missourians in the consumer protection context or crime victims context. 

“I would view myself as attorney general as first and foremost being the guardian of the rights and prerogatives of Missouri citizens.”


Missouri missing ‘coherent crime agenda’

“On the crime issue, I think we need a coherent crime agenda in this state, and I don’t think anyone in Jefferson City has really stepped up to push one forward. We’ve seen sort of a scattershot approach to the crime issue over the years. The legislature will pop up and pass a carjacking bill or something like that, but in terms of the actual functioning of our criminal justice system – meaningful bail reform, truth in sentencing laws – we haven’t seen any of that out of Jefferson City, and we haven’t seen any leadership on that issue.  

“And as a former violent crime prosecutor, that’s something that’s particularly important to me.”

Asked how he would be different from current Attorney General Andrew Bailey, appointed to the position to succeed now-U.S. Sen. Eric Schmitt, Scharf says he’s a “conservative outsider” who will follow Schmitt’s path of leading the state on issues of national importance.

The current AG, Scharf says, has “claimed credit for a lot of efforts that have actually been led by other states. I think that, while under Eric Schmitt Missouri was really a leader among conservative attorney general’s offices around the country, now it’s become much more of a follower, and I think that’s regrettable. 

“You’ve seen conservatives essentially flee that office, and I think you’ve seen that office back off a lot of Eric Schmitt’s most important initiatives, including holding school districts accountable on curriculum issues and other violations of state law. I think it’s really regrettable. 

“More importantly, I just think that Mike Parson made his decision in November of 2022 whom he wanted to hold the office; this August the people in Missouri are going to get to make the decision.

“And the core decision I think that we’re asking them to make is whether they want a career Jeff City person who’s answerable to the special interests and lobbyists in Jefferson City, or whether they want a conservative outsider. And we feel really good about our chances.”


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