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:   Assisted appointment
Term:   12 years
Missouri Court of Appeals
Method:   Assisted appointment
Term:   12 years
Missouri Circuit Courts
Method:   Assisted appointment or partisan elections
Term:   6 years

Selection of state judges in Missouri occurs largely through merit selection, specifically the assisted appointment method. Since 1940, when Missouri became the first state to adopt merit selection, the method itself is commonly referred to as the Missouri Plan and has served as a model for 34 other states that have adopted some variation of it. Appointed judges serve a short initial term and later run in yes-no retention elections if they wish to serve full terms.[1][2]

Only the Missouri Circuit Courts deviate from this method. Except for the courts in Kansas City, Springfield and St. Louis, which do employ merit selection, circuit judges are chosen in partisan elections and must run for re-election if they wish to serve additional terms.[2]

Under the Missouri Constitution, elected and retained judges' terms begin on January 1 following their election.

Appellate courts

See also: Assisted appointment

The seven justices of the Missouri Supreme Court and the 32 judges of the Missouri Court of Appeals are selected according to the Missouri Plan. When a vacancy occurs, a list of potential candidates is compiled by the Missouri Appellate Judicial Commission and narrowed to three choices. From those three candidates, the governor appoints a new judge.[2]

Newly appointed judges stand for retention in the next general election occurring one to three years after they take office. If retained, they serve twelve-year terms.[2]

Selection of the chief justice or judge

The chief judge of each court serves a two-year term and is elected by a rotation with peer vote. By tradition, the court elects the most senior justice who has not yet served as chief justice.[2]


To serve on either of these courts, a judge must be:

  • a U.S. citizen for at least 15 years;
  • district resident (for court of appeals judges);
  • a qualified state voter for at least nine years;
  • licensed to practice law in the state;
  • over the age of 30; and
  • under the age of 70 (retirement at 70 is mandatory).[2]

If a judge wishes to continue serving past the age of 70 and has not already occupied the bench for 12 years, he may petition the commission on retirement, removal and discipline to serve until the age 76.[3]

Circuit Court

See also: Partisan elections

The 141 judges of the Missouri Circuit Courts are elected to six-year terms in partisan elections. At the end of their terms, judges must face re-election.[2]

The cities of Springfield, St. Louis and Kansas City have opted instead to employ the same merit selection process that the appellate courts use. Under the Missouri Constitution, circuit courts may adopt the merit selection process if a majority of local voters approve. To place the question on the general election ballot, residents may file a petition signed by 10 percent of county voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election. In counties where merit selection has been adopted, it may be discontinued using the same process.[2]

Selection of the chief judge

The chief judge of each court is elected by the circuit and associate judges from among the sitting circuit judges.[2]


To serve on this court, a judge must be:

  • a U.S. citizen for at least 10 years;
  • a qualified state voter for at least three years;
  • a resident of the circuit for at least one year;
  • licensed to practice law in the state; and
  • at least 30 years old.[2]


In the event of midterm vacancies, circuit courts that normally use partisan elections replace their judges through gubernatorial appointment. These judges must run in the next general election if they wish to serve a full term.[2]

History of judicial selection

Judicial selection in Missouri has undergone significant changes in the last two centuries. Below is a timeline of the various stages, from the most recent to the earliest:

  • 2008: Greene County adopted the Missouri Plan for the selection of circuit judges.
  • 1976: The judicial nominating commission was empowered by a constitutional amendment to fill vacancies if the governor does not select a nominee within 60 days.
  • 1973: The counties of Clay and Platte adopted the Missouri Plan for the selection of circuit judges.
  • 1970: St. Louis County adopted the Missouri Plan for the selection of circuit judges.
  • 1945: The Missouri Plan was included in the new state constitution.
  • 1942: After the Missouri Plan was approved in 1940, legislators voted to repeal it by a one-vote margin. When the matter was put to popular vote in 1942, however, voters rejected the repeal 65 percent to 35 percent. See the reform efforts section below.
  • 1940: The Missouri Plan (known formally as the Nonpartisan Selection of Judges Court Plan) was approved by voters 55 percent to 45 percent, having been placed on the ballot by petition.
  • 1909: The Springfield Court of Appeals was created by constitutional amendment and established that judges are to be elected by popular vote to twelve-year terms.
  • 1884: The Kansas City Court of Appeals was created by constitutional amendment and established that judges are to be elected by popular vote to twelve-year terms.
  • 1875: The St. Louis Court of Appeals was created by constitutional amendment and established that judges are to be elected by popular vote to twelve-year terms.
  • 1872: The tenure of supreme court judges was extended to twelve years.
  • 1849: Established that supreme and circuit court judges are to be elected by popular vote to six-year terms.
  • 1820: Established that all judges are to be appointed by the governor with senate consent and serve for life.[2][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 the matter to popular vote. Missouri citizens rejected the legislature's act of repeal, with 65 percent of voters supporting the new method of judicial selection.[1]


Missouri State Capital

In 2011, identical bills regarding judicial selection were introduced in the house of representatives and the senate. Bills HJR 18 and SJR 18 proposed to:

  • increase the number of candidates submitted to the governor by judicial nominating commission from three to five;
  • give the 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 the chief justice

In September 2010, Chief Justice William Ray Price, dissatisfied with the lack of transparency in the judicial selection process, announced changes to the way appellate judges are to be selected.[4][5]

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.[6]

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 moved to repeal the Missouri Plan, select judges through partisan elections and reduce the tenure of appellate judges to eight years. The measure did not make it onto the ballot after insufficient signatures were collected.[7] For more on this 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.[8]

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 quoted Hulshof as saying: "The nonpartisan plan has become partisan."[9] 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.[9]

2004 to 2009

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, increasing legislative involvement and giving the governor more control over the process.[8]


In 1945, voters of the state adopted a new constitution which included the Nonpartisan Court Plan.[1]

Selection of federal judges

United States district court judges, who are selected from each state, go through a different selection process than that of state judges.

The district courts are served by Article III federal judges who are appointed for life, during "good behavior." They are usually first recommended by senators (or members of the House, occasionally). The President of the United States of America nominates judges, who must then be confirmed by the United States Senate in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution.[10]

Step ApprovedA Candidacy Proceeds DefeatedD Candidacy Halts
1. Recommendation made by Congress member to the President President nominates to Senate Judiciary Committee President declines nomination
2. Senate Judiciary Committee interviews candidate Sends candidate to Senate for confirmation Returns candidate to President, who may re-nominate to committee
3. Senate votes on candidate confirmation Candidate becomes federal judge Candidate does not receive judgeship

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