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State of Missouri

History of Reform Efforts: Missouri

Unsuccessful Reform Efforts

Fifty-seven Republican lawmakers proposed a constitutional amendment (HJR50) that would have replaced merit selection of judges with judicial elections.

A handful of bills were proposed to alter the way that judges are selected and retained. One would have required senate confirmation of supreme court nominees (HJR10), while another would have required confirmation of both supreme court and court of appeals nominees (HJR11). A third bill would have reduced the term lengths of supreme court judges from 12 years to 5 years.

Three ultimately unsuccessful measures were proposed. One called for gubernatorial appointment and senate confirmation of judges. A second proposal called for gubernatorial appointment with confirmation by a judicial confirmation commission that would be made up of attorneys in the senate, house, and private practice. A third proposal would have replaced retention elections with retention by the legislature every ten years, and would have allowed the governor to request removal by a two-thirds vote of the legislature.

By a vote of 69-83, the House rejected HJR49. The proposal would have increased from 3 to 5 the number of judicial candidates submitted to the governor, allowed the governor to request a second list of 5 candidates, and given the lieutenant governor appointing authority if the governor failed to make a selection within 60 days of receiving the second list. The bill also would have added an additional nonlawyer member to the appellate judicial commission, and 2 lawyers and 3 nonlawyers to each circuit judicial commission. All commission members would have been appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate. In addition, the bill would have required that the names of all judicial applicants be made public and that all candidate information available to the commissions be provided to the governor.

The house approved a proposed constitutional amendment (HJR10) that would have modified the Missouri Plan for selecting judges in several ways. It would have added one nonlawyer member appointed by the governor to each of the circuit judicial commissions and the appellate judicial commission, opened the commissions' proceedings to the public, increased from three to four the number of candidates nominated by the commissions, and allowed the governor to reject the first list of candidates and request a second list. The proposal was blocked by a filibuster in the senate.


The Nonpartisan Court Plan also came under fire in the early 1980s. In 1982, a supreme court justice was accused by his colleagues of manipulating the selection process to "hand pick" the justices who would fill three vacancies on the court. In 1985, the governor appointed his thirty-three year old chief of staff, who had no judicial experience, to a vacancy on the supreme court. These events led to annual efforts by the general assembly to modify or replace the Nonpartisan Court Plan. Not surprisingly, some bills were directed at the ethics of the nominating commission and the governor in judicial appointments. A bill introduced in 1989 would have prohibited the governor from communicating directly or indirectly with members of the nominating commission until the nominees for a judicial vacancy were submitted to the governor. In both 1988 and 1991, proposals were made to abolish the Nonpartisan Court Plan. Between 1990 and 1993, measures were introduced that would alter the selection process for the nonlawyer members of nominating commissions; require senate approval of gubernatorial appointments; impose twelve-year term limits on all judges; increase the affirmative percentage required for retention to 60%; and allow voters to petition for a special retention election for judges in their area. While some of these bills garnered support, none were enacted.