Missouri Nonpartisan Selection of Judges (2008)

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Missouri Nonpartisan Selection of Judges
Initiated Constitutional Amendment
Year 2008
Subject Judge selection process
Sponsored by: Better Courts for Missouri
Opposed by: Missouri Bar Association
Current Status
Status Not on ballot (Proposed ballot measures that were not on a ballot)

Not on Ballot
Proposed allot measures that were not on a ballot
This measure did not or
will not appear on a ballot

Missouri Nonpartisan Selection of Judges, also knowns as Ballot Measure 046 is an initiated constitutional amendment that would remove the nonpartisan judicial selection commission and give the Governor the right to appoint judges with the Senate's consent.[1]

The initiative would also instate the follow procedures:

  • increasing the number of judicial nominees submitted by the commissions from three to five and allowing the Governor to veto the first list of nominees;
  • transferring from the Missouri Supreme Court to the Governor’s appointed commissions the authority to establish rules governing commission actions; and
  • making certain information regarding judicial nominees and the selection process publicly available


The initiative failed to submit enough signatures by May 4th in order to qualify for the 2008 ballot.


The current Nonpartisan Court Plan brings together political appointees, attorneys elected by the Missouri Bar and a sitting judge to formulate a slate of candidates for selection by the governor.[2]

In the event of a vacancy on one of the courts that falls under the Missouri Plan -- the Supreme Court, appellate courts, or the circuit courts in St. Louis and Kansas City -- a judicial Commission requests applications, screens and interviews applicants, and then sends the Governor a list of three nominees from which the Governor has sixty days to select the judge to fill the vacancy. The Commission that nominates judges to Missouri's Supreme Court and Appellate Courts is the Appellate Judicial Commission.[3] Currently the Appellate Judicial Commission consists of three lawyers elected by the Missouri Bar, three laypersons appointed by current and past governors, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. If the Governor does not choose one of the people nominated by the Commission, then the Commission appoints one of the nominees.

There is also active legislation similar to the initiative being processed.


Better Courts for Missouri is nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(4) organization dedicated to introducing openness and accountability to the Missouri Plan for selecting judges.[4] The group is sponsoring the initiative, hoping to push the legislature to approve the plan.

Better Courts for Missouri has argued that flaws in the current plan give elite trial lawyers too much control over judicial selection. According to the organization's executive director, "they are a small, insular group who have their interests. They have a lot to add to the process, but we don't think they should dominate the process - (and they) are in no way accountable to Missourians."[5]

Disenfranchisement of African Americans

Former Missouri State legislator and lawyer, Elbert Walton, has focused on the plan's effect on African Americans. "It is unfair that lawyers elect judges . . . It disenfranchises people and it especially disenfranchises black people."[6] At a press conference in February, 2008, Walton accused Missouri Bar President Charlie Harris of ignoring the Missouri Plan's effect on black people. Walton pointed to the fact that there had never been an African American elected to one of the Missouri Bar's three slots on the Appellate Judicial Commission, and suggested that Mr. Harris "ought to be ashamed of himself" for supporting such a plan.[7]

Governor Phil Bredesen of Tennessee has complained of his own state's version of the Missouri Plan for similar reasons.[8]

Dominated by Politics

The Editors at the Wall Street Journal wrote that, "If the recent slugfests have proven anything, it's that Missouri's courts are every bit as hung up in politics as they are in other states. The difference is that in Missouri the process happens behind closed doors."[9]

In Tennessee, Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen made similar complaints and made comments echoing those made by Better Courts for Missouri. According to Bredesen, "I think [the nominating commissioners] have been vastly too political in their selection process. And what they are supposed to do is give you the best candidates in the ideal world."[10]

Legislative Track

Better Courts for Missouri has supported three House Joint Resolutions that would change the composition of the Appellate Judicial Commission, and make the judicial selection process "more open and accountable": HJR 49, HJR 51, and HJR 66.[4]

House Joint Resolution 49 was filed by Representative Stanley Cox, an attorney from Sedalia, Missouri. Cox's bill would remove the Chief Justice from the nominating commission, replace her with a lay-person appointed by the governor, and add requirements that the Commission make information public.[11]


Former Supreme Court Judge Chip Robertson has said, "The only thing that's transparent about this so-called coalition, and others like it, is their plan to destroy Missouri's courts."[12]

The group Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts has put out ads in opposition to Better Courts for Missouri, and has been increasingly critical of their policies.,[13]

Since its inception, the Missouri Bar and Better Courts have been critical of one another. Better Courts first argued that members of the Bar should ask for a refund of dues if they objected to the Missouri Bar's use of those dues to campaign against reform of the Missouri Plan.[14] The Missouri Bar responded by arguing that Better Courts was nothing but a "fringe group," that would "politicize Missouri’s Non-Partisan Court Plan."[15] Better Courts for Missouri responded by releasing letters of support by prominent legal scholars.[16] In a recent debate between William Placke and Woody Cozad, hosted by the Federalist Society, William Placke said, "To argue that this system is not based on partisan politics is a stretch of the truth and an insult to intelligence."[17]

See also

External Links


  1. Missouri Nonpartisan Selection of Judges language
  2. Prime Buzz, Secretary of State OK's initiative petition overhauling Missouri Court Plan, April 11, 2008
  3. "American Judicature Society's Judicial Selection in the States website" Accessed 2008-14-03.
  4. 4.0 4.1 http://www.newmoplan.com
  5. Bob Watson, "Opponents of judicial selection process form new group" (dead link) Jefferson City News Tribune. Accessed 2008-14-03.
  6. Jason Noble, "Another amendment, another hearing, more of the same debate on the judicial selection process KC Star 2008-26-02. Accessed 2008-14-03.
  7. Scott Lauck, St. Louis attorney says blacks left out of judicial selection Daily Record
  8. Justice at Stake, Bredesen complains about Missouri Plan (dead link)
  9. Wall Street Journal Missouri Compromised 2007-22-12. Accessed 2008-14-03
  10. Andy Sher. Chatanooga Times Free Press"Bredesen Wants Nominating Commission to Operate in Open 2008-14-01.
  11. House Joint Resolution 49
  12. "Missouri group wants to change judge-selection process." Kansas City Business Journal. 2008-30-01. Accessed 2008-14-03.
  13. Protecting Missourians’ Rights to Fair and Impartial Courts ProtectJustice.Org July 26, 2007
  14. Missouri Bar Watch. Missouri Bar Dues Refund
  15. Missouri Bar. Esq. "And Now, The Rest of the Story – What Missouri Lawyers Should Know about a Recent Daily Record Article about “Better Courts for Missouri.”
  16. Missouri Political News Service
  17. Kelly Wiese, "Proposed changes to Missouri Plan gather steam at Capitol." Daily Record 2008-12-03.

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