What is the Missouri Plan?

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A view of the south side of the Missouri Capitol building in Jefferson City [Zachary Reger]
Missouri’s most notable claim-to-fame in modern legal philosophy is often overlooked.

The state’s constitutionally guaranteed system of merit-based judicial selection — the “Missouri Plan,” as it’s often called — marked a seismic shift in the process of court appointment, one that swept the nation in a grand revision of how we populate many of our appellate and high courts.

By forgoing popular alternatives of direct election and nomination-confirmation of state judges, Missouri ushered in a new “nonpartisan” era of judicial selection.

After the Plan’s initial adoption in the mid-1900s, dozens of states followed, creating merit-based systems of their own. Newly democratic nations across Europe and South America drew inspiration from the Plan in writing their own constitutions, as did even a few established democracies during historic reformation votes.

And Missouri started it all.

What follows is a brief overview of the philosophy and origins of the Missouri Plan, a lightly edited excerpt taken from my undergraduate thesis work at the University of Missouri.

Continue reading “What is the Missouri Plan?”

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Republicans went nuclear — now what?

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1946 nuclear test at Bikini Atoll [Public Domain]
After a Democratic filibuster of Neil Gorsuch, Congressional Republicans have exercised the “nuclear option,” dismantling the requirement of a 60-vote cloture movement before voting on Supreme Court nominees. Gorsuch can be confirmed with a mere 51 supporting senators, an up-or-down vote scheduled for Friday.

So what now?

Two law professors write in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that we should “stop worrying and learn to love the nuclear option.”

On the other hand, an opposing law professor writes a piece for U.S. News arguing that to kill the filibuster is to “kill trust in the court.”

When all is said and done, at least one thing is certain — it will have been an excellent day for C-SPAN ratings.

Washington Society hosts public dialogue on ethics

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Overview

The Washington Society held a public dialogue on the origins of morality in the Kinder Institute on the University of Missouri campus Monday afternoon. The dialogue, titled “Where Does Morality Come From?” was led by political science Professors Justin Dyer and Jonathan Krieckhaus. Dyer is director of the Kinder Institute.

Krieckhaus kicked off the event by going through a numbered list of points to make about morality in general (copy below).

First, Krieckhaus made the point that it is not prima facie evident that morality does in fact exist.

Knowing this, his second point listed four “existential stances” one can take toward morality: Amorality, logic, deism and naturalism.

The professor’s third point was to explain the increasing importance of this final type, naturalism. Our country is growing less religious with each successive generation, he said, and so, if we are to preserve and develop a shared sense of moral norms, we must turn to non-deist moral reasoning.

Krieckhaus’ fourth point explored the pros and cons of such a form of moral reasoning, mentioning that it is potentially more useful, but also more difficult to develop.

Finally, the last point centered on the Golden Rule. Does the notion of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you fulfill the requirements of a shared naturalist morality in the way we would wish? Not quite, explained the professor, listing a few fundamental disagreements we would still have, such as matters of sexual engagement and abortion rights. However, the Golden Rule is still important, as it is useful in guiding our morality in many other cases.

After Krieckhaus’ lecture, there was a similar introduction from Dyer, a moment of dialogue between the professors and then a period where audience members could ask questions.doc-oct-11-2016-9-02-am

My Analysis

I found Krieckhaus’ talk to be the most interesting of all the segments, specifically his assertion of the importance of non-deist moral reasoning.

It was here that he began to reference Plato. Krieckhaus, who believes there is a discoverable logical foundation upon which we can build our shared morality, nevertheless explored what a world would be like if that was not the case. In such a world, we may need to develop a “noble myth,” he said, echoing the notion of Plato’s noble lie. Even if a non-deist morality doesn’t exist, it is best for society that we create the illusion that one does.

I completely agree with this assertion. Society needs some moral norms in order to function properly. Religion has traditionally been the easiest manner of communicating these norms, but as the developed world continues its trajectory away from deism, it is imperative we find a sturdier foundation upon which to build a new moral system.

REPORT: Gay Republican ponders party’s push for religious liberty legislation

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A view of the south side of the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City (Zachary Reger)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Information for this story was gathered from interviews conducted throughout the Missouri General Assembly’s 2016 legislative session, which ran from January to mid-May.


JEFFERSON CITY — Zachary Wyatt-Gomez, 31, a former Missouri representative and openly gay Republican, is an ideological harbinger—a man whose own life story mirrors the morphing philosophy of his seemingly fractured party.

But Wyatt’s experience also highlights a growing divide within the GOP, an uneasy coalition straining to establish some form of consensus between its business-minded and socially conservative wings.

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Zachary Wyatt-Gomez

It’s a divide that served as tinder for this spring’s religious liberty showdown in the Missouri General Assembly.

Senate Joint Resolution 39, a Republican-sponsored religious liberty constitutional amendment, was first presented as a way to protect the socially conservative beliefs and practices of ordinary citizens from overbearing government oversight.

Opponents argued the resolution would legalize discrimination.

Specifically, SJR 39 would have allowed some wedding-related businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples based on a “sincere religious belief.”

After passing the state Senate, the resolution was defeated in a House committee on April 27.

SJR 39 needed a simple majority to pass the committee and continue its journey to the House floor. The vote was 6-6.

Continue reading “REPORT: Gay Republican ponders party’s push for religious liberty legislation”

What can a journalist do that no one else can?

Journalists do quite a bit.

We enlighten and entertain. We further democratic values by bringing voice to the underserved and underprivileged. We promote intellectual tolerance and diversity by remaining objective heralds. Further, we keep watch on the powerful and keep watch over the powerless.

But there’s nothing special about any of these things; there’s nothing special about what a journalist can do.

With a pad and paper, anyone could do these things.

But most won’t.

Journalism isn’t unique. It isn’t exciting. It isn’t adventurous.

It is necessary.

Does American liberalism have a smugness problem?

…an incredibly divisive opinion piece from Vox believes so.

Possibly more interesting than the piece itself are the Facebook arguments it spawned.

Is Vox asking a fair question, or is the author’s argument against bias too biased itself?

Kierkegaard was an interesting fellow

I needed a quick break from thesis readings, so tonight I decided to (briefly) explore the philosophy of Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, “father of existentialism.”

Either it’s not actually procrastination, or I’m just adept at fooling myself into believing it isn’t.

Give yourself a pat on the back if you caught the terrible Kierkegaard joke.

Focusing my limited time on his philosophy of religion—the area which I found to be most interesting—I decided to note my thoughts on what seems to be his main existential argument, or at least how I understood it.

Be warned: I knew very little about Kierkegaard before tonight, and still feel that I know relatively little about his overarching views. Therefore, you might disagree with my interpretation.

Kierkegaard on Religion

Kierkegaard believes that you, as an individual, are enslaved unless you are free to do what you please. By this logic, he believes you should try to do exactly that which you wish to do most above all, which is the key to true happiness.

What each individual wants to do most above all, psychologically speaking, is to believe in universal moral truth, and so you should seek to further this interest.

(But what if I want to commit immoral acts? Plato and others have argued that you would never truly want to do this if you were in a fully rational position, and that all immoral desires are merely a result of insufficient knowledge.)

Believing in universal moral truth requires some form of religion or anti-naturalism, although, admittedly, there still exists a broad variety of distinct ideologies within this grouping.

So, what you should do to be truly free is to become religious, even though there is no possible rational justification for religious truth being correct.

This, Kierkegaard explains, is called the “leap of faith,” and without it, not only can you not be free in the most meaningful sense, but you can never truly vanquish psychological existential anxiety from your daily life.

TL;DR

Kierkegaard: Deep down, you truly want to be a religious and moral individual. You’ve also been given the gift of free will. So go be religious—but avoid as much unjustifiable dogma as possible.

Is he right?