Position – The Missouri Plan for Selection of Judges
November 1, 2017
The Missouri Plan, the system for selecting judges to serve on the state’s Supreme Court, its three Courts of Appeal, and the local courts of its three largest population centers, must be retained by the voters of Missouri to preserve fairness in selection of judges and to protect the independence of the judiciary.
The Missouri Plan has built-in safeguards to protect the independence of the judiciary from the corrupting influence of money and partisan politics.
A non-partisan judicial commission reviews applications for an open judgeship and identifies three candidates. The review process includes evaluation of candidates’ background, education, competency, experience and temperament. Candidates’ political parties are disregarded. The Governor then must act within 60 days to select one of the three to fill the opening. The person selected serves an initial term of one year, and succeeding terms between 4 and 12 years, depending on the court. After each term of a judge’s service, information about the judge’s record is compiled and made available to voters, and the voters decide whether to retain or remove the judge in a non-partisan general election.
To inhibit the possibility of control of the judicial commission by entrenchment of a political party or trial lawyers, lawyers on the commission are from different areas of the state, they are elected by their local peers and they are limited to one six-year term. Also, non-lawyers on the commission are from different areas of the state and serve for six-year staggered terms, and the judges who chair the panels serve for a single two-year term. This makes it very difficult for one faction to control any judicial appointment.
Missouri’s governor, Eric Greitens wants to replace this plan with the method for appointing appellate court judges now in effect in Tennessee and put the appointment of the state’s highest judges and those in its most populous counties under the control of the governor. Under the method Governor Greitens advocates, the governor would have the right to appoint judges subject only to confirmation or disapproval by the state’s general assembly within a limited time period; if no general assembly vote were held within that time period, the governor’s nominee would be confirmed by default. In addition, it would be possible for the governor to replace the entire appellate bench at one time. The selection of judges for Missouri’s most important courts would become purely political, without requiring consideration of their professional qualifications, and they could be replaced in one fell swoop, undermining the independence of the state’s appellate courts and the local courts in its most populous jurisdictions.
OUR ADVOCACY POINTS
If the voters of Missouri are asked to change the method of appointment of its most important judges, we advocate in the strongest terms possible that the voters reject any such change. The alternatives, either popular election of candidates as if they were running for political office, or appointment by the governor or state legislature, would increase the influence of money and politics and would undermine the independence of our state’s judiciary.