Judicial selection in Missouri

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Judicial selection in the states
Judicial selection in Missouri
Seal of Missouri.png
Missouri Supreme Court
Method:   Comm. select., Gov. appt.
Term:   12 years
Missouri Court of Appeals
Method:   Comm. select., Gov. appt.
Term:   12 years
Missouri Circuit Courts
Method:   Comm. select., Gov. appt. or partisan elections
Term:   6 years

Missouri was the first state to adopt a form of merit selection, commonly referred to as the Missouri Plan.

Supreme Court

Justices of the Missouri Supreme Court are selected according to the Missouri Plan. A list of candidates to fill a vacant position is compiled by the Missouri Appellate Judicial Commission, then narrowed to three choices. From those three, the governor chooses who to appoint.

Newly appointed justices must stand for retention to the seat in the next general election more than one year after taking office. Vacancies are filled according to the Missouri Plan as well.

The chief justice of the court serves a two-year term and is elected by a rotation with peer vote. Peer vote, by tradition, is when the court elects the most senior justice who has not yet held the position of Chief Justice.

In order to join the court, an individual must meet the following qualifications:

  • be a U.S. citizen at least 15 yrs;
  • be a qualified state voter at least 9 yrs;
  • be licensed to practice in state;
  • be the minimum age of 30;
  • retire at the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Court of Appeals

Judges of the Missouri Court of Appeals are selected in the same way as the Supreme Court.

Circuit Court

Justices of the Missouri Circuit Courts are elected to 6 year terms in partisan elections.

The qualifications are as follows:

  • be an U.S. citizen for 10 years;
  • qualified state voter for 3 years;
  • be a resident of the circuit for 1 year;
  • licensed to practice law in the state; and
  • at least 30 years of age.

History of judicial selection

  • 1821-1850 All judges in the state are appointed by the governor with consent of the Missouri Senate. Judges serve for life.
  • 1850-1939 The state uses popular election of judges. All judges were elected to six-year terms until 1872, when Supreme Court justices are elected to twelve-year terms. As the Court of Appeals are created, they also are elected to twelve-year terms.
  • 1940 Missouri became the first state to adopt the merit selection proposal.[1]

Reform efforts

Since the Missouri Plan was put into place, groups have tried to repeal it. Only two years after its adoption, the Missouri State Legislature repealed it and put it to the voters. The citizens of the state rejected the legislature's act of repeal, with 65% of the supporting the new method of judicial selection.[2]


Missouri State Capital

In 2011, identical bills regarding judicial selection were introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate. HJR 18 and SJR 18 proposed to:

  • increase number of candidates submitted to the governor by judicial nominating commission from three to five;
  • give governor authority to veto the first list within sixty days;
  • alter the composition of the judicial nominating commission; and
  • enact Senate confirmation of judicial appointees.

The measures were never voted on in the full House or Senate.


Transparency embraced by Chief Justice

Because of dissatisfaction over the lack of transparency in the judicial selection process, in September 2010 Chief Justice William Ray Price announced changes to the way appellate judges are selected.[3][4]

While the process of the Missouri Plan will stay the same, now:

  • the interviews of the Commission will be open to the public;
  • the number of votes each candidate receives will be public; and
  • the public can nominate candidates for consideration.[5]

2010 Ballot Initiative

In May 2010, the advocacy group Show Me Better Courts submitted signatures for a ballot initiative to the Missouri Secretary of State. The measure would have amended the state constitution to repeal the Missouri Plan, select judges through partisan elections and reduce the term length for appellate judges to eight years. The measure did not make it onto the ballot, after insufficient signatures were collected.[6] For more on that effort, visit: Ballotpedia's 2011 Judicial Selection Amendment page.


In 2009, the Missouri House of Representatives passed HJR10, which would have modified the plan. It was filibustered in the Missouri Senate.[7]

2008 gubernatorial campaign

Congressman Kenny Hulshof, the 2008 Republican candidate for governor, criticized the Missouri Plan and proposed changes to the way Missouri's appellate judges were chosen. His plan intended to give the governor "greater leeway in making appointments," according to an Associated Press article that quotes Hulshof as saying, "The nonpartisan plan has become partisan."[8] Hulshof said the Missouri Plan favors trial and injury lawyers, long recognized as the liberal wing of law, who have enjoyed too much influence on how judges are picked. His Democratic challenger (and eventual winner) Jay Nixon, said Hulshof's plan would actually increase the amount of politics in court selection process.


In each of these years, bills were proposed in the legislature to change the merit selection plan. Legislators attempted to create a constitutional amendment repealing the plan, increase legislative involvement and give the governor more control over the process.[7]


In 1945, voters of the state adopted a new constitution which included the Nonpartisan Court Plan.[2]

See also

External links


MissouriMissouri Supreme CourtMissouri Court of AppealsMissouri Circuit CourtsMissouri Municipal CourtsUnited States District Court for the Eastern District of MissouriUnited States District Court for the Western District of MissouriUnited States bankruptcy court, Eastern District of MissouriUnited States bankruptcy court, Western District of MissouriUnited States Court of Appeals for the Eighth CircuitMissouri countiesMissouri judicial newsMissouri judicial electionsJudicial selection in MissouriMissouriTemplate.jpg