Missouri Court Plan (2012)
The following is excerpted from the September-October 2012 Missouri Voter.
Missouri’s Nonpartisan Court Plan is a model for the nation with over thirty states adopting the same or a similar court plan. Why then would the state legislature choose to ask voters in November to dismantle this successful judge selection process?
To put it simply, the proposed changes to the plan, would give the governor more power in the judicial selection process, bringing partisan politics into a system that is presently fair and impartial. The League of Women Voter supported the Nonpartisan Court Plan form its inception. There is no evidence that the plan needs changing.
Prior to 1940, when the nonpartisan court plan became law, Missourians elected judges. Tired of the corruption and the influence of the political machine in Kansas City and the political bosses in St. Louis, Missouri voters, by initiative petition, amended the constitution to give the governor the power to appoint judges from a list developed by a nonpartisan judicial selection commission. Judges are chosen based on merit rather than political party. The influence of campaign money is gone and candidates for judgeships no longer need to spend time fundraising or campaigning. They can do their jobs.
The Nonpartisan Court Plan applies to the Missouri Court of Appeals and Supreme Court and St. Louis City and St. Louis County on the eastern part of the state. It covers Jackson, Clay and Platte Counties in the Kansas City area. Greene County in the Springfield area recently voted to forego the election of judges for the nonpartisan plan. The Nonpartisan Court Plan candidates for judicial appointment are scrutinized by the judicial selection commission. The candidates go through a rigorous application, research and interview process on background, education, competency, experience and temperament. The commission thoroughly studies each applicant and chooses the three best candidates from which the governor selects one to fill a vacancy on the court. After the judge serves one year, citizens vote at the next election on whether to retain the judge. Additionally, at the end of each judge’s term, citizens vote on whether to retain the judge. The option of impeachment by the legislature is also available. In over 70 years since the Nonpartisan Court Plan has been in effect, voters have retained all but two judges.
The Judicial Selection Commission is composed of three lawyers elected by the Missouri Bar Association, three non-lawyers appointed by the governor plus the chief justice of the Supreme Court. The ballot proposal, if approved by the voters, would modify the composition of the Appellate Judicial Commission and the selection process for judges to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. It would eliminate the chief justice as a member, give the governor the power to appoint four citizen members who may be lawyers in addition to the three lawyers the Bar Association appoints. It would increase from three to four the number of nominees the commission presents to the governor and would eliminate the staggered terms of the commissioners allowing the governor to appoint four members in his first year in office.
If one wants to be assured that politics will not enter the judicial selection process, that the judges are beholden to no one but the public, that the selection process is open and transparent, that ordinary people have a place on the judicial selection commission, and that the candidates for judge are selected based on merit, Vote No on November 6, 2012. You will be in good company. The Missouri Bar Association, present and former Missouri Supreme Court judges appointed by both Democrat and Republican governors and many other civic organizations warn against tinkering with the Nonpartisan Court Plan.
We have seen what happens in other states when politics enter the judicial appointment process. One of the few
areas where Missouri has gained positive national recognition is our Nonpartisan Court Plan. The League of Women Voters
urges voters to maintain a just and impartial court by voting no on Constitutional Amendment 3. Let’s be proud of Missouri’s judicial record and not turn back the clock.
–Lois Detrick, LWVMO President