The Missouri Plan (originally the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan), also known as the merit plan, is a method for the nonpartisan selection of judges currently used in 11 states as well as in many other countries. Many other states use a variant of it.
The Missouri Plan is a method to combine election and appointment of judges. Under the plan, judicial vacancies are first selected by independent commissions from all available applicants for that position. Three (3) names are forwarded to the governor who has sixty days to select one. If the governor does not select a one of the three to fill the position within those sixty days, the committee will then make the selection. At the general election soonest after the completion of one year service, the judge must stand in a "retention election."If a majority vote against retention, the judge is removed from office, and the process starts anew..
History and spread of the plan
Missouri voters adopted the system by initiative petition in November 1940 after several very contentious judicial elections, which were heavily influenced by the political machine of Tom Pendergast. Most low-level judges in Missouri are selected by other means, except in Kansas City and St. Louis, where the Missouri Plan is mandated by the state constitution for all judicial vacancies. After Missouri adopted this method for selecting judges, several other states adopted it, either in full or in part.
The 12 states currently using the Missouri Plan are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming. In addition to these twelve states, Tennessee uses a modified version of the Missouri Plan and Florida also uses a complex, modified version of the Missouri Plan.
Ten of the fourteen states that use the Missouri Plan or a version of it are states that allow citizen initiative.
The Missouri Plan is not without critics. There are several alternative ways of filling judicial posts which are used in other states. These include direct elections (either partisan or non-partisan), election by the state legislature, or appointment by the governor with advice and consent of the state senate. Missouri had previously used all of these methods before developing the Nonpartisan Court Plan in 1940.
When it was initiated in 1940, the "Missouri Plan" was seen as a way of keeping politics and special interests out of the judicial selection process and was copied by most of the other states. Unfortunately, the Plan’s promise has not been fulfilled. Over the years, the Commission’s secretive selection process has become increasingly controlled by the Missouri Bar Association, an organization with close ties to liberal special interest groups.
For Missouri residents, the Plan changed significantly in 1976 when, without voter intervention, The Missouri Supreme Court created Rule 12.21. This rule mandated that all complaints filed against judges are to be hidden from the public unless their Commission for Retirement Removal and Discipline of Judges (C.R.R.D.) initiated a formal investigation.
C.R.R.D. is made up of two judges, two attorneys, and two gubernatorial appointees. At least four members must agree to initiate a formal investigation. This Commission, fondly known as CRUD, is seen more as a clearing house for judicial complaints than as a competent means of restraining a corrupt judiciary.
Explanations of the Missouri Plan
- Let the People Judge the Judges: Reforming Virginia's Judicial Selection Process
- Judges and elections are not always a good mix
- Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts