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State of Missouri

Judicial Selection in the States: Missouri


Fight over judges likely to continue
November 9, 2012 :: The Associated Press


Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...


The Missouri judiciary consists of a supreme court, a court of appeals, and a circuit court. In 1940, Missouri became the first state to adopt merit selection of judges. The Nonpartisan Selection of Judges Court Plan, which has come to be known as the Missouri Plan, has served as a model for the thirty-four other states that use merit selection to fill some or all judicial vacancies.

Prior to the adoption of the Nonpartisan Court Plan, judicial selection in Missouri was controlled by political machines and party bosses who sought to unseat judges who issued unfavorable rulings. Judges' positions were so tenuous under machine politics that from 1918 to 1941 only two supreme court justices were successful in their bids for reelection. Concerned citizens, judges, and lawyers organized an initiative petition effort to place the plan on the ballot. Less than 60 days after Missouri voters ratified the Nonpartisan Court Plan, legislative opponents introduced a resolution to submit the plan to voters again in the next election. In 1942, voters approved the plan by more than twice the earlier vote, and in 1945, voters adopted a new constitution that included the Nonpartisan Court Plan. Thus, in the first five years of the Nonpartisan Court Plan, voters indicated their approval on three separate occasions.