How are judges selected?
The judges are selected according to a national model called the non-partisan court plan, or the “Missouri Plan.”
The plan was created in Missouri in 1940 to reduce the role of politics in the judicial selection process. At that time, the plan was intended to counteract the political machine and political bosses during the Tom Pendergast era in Kansas City. The Missouri Plan became a model that has been adopted in more than 30 states.
Under the plan, a nonpartisan judicial commission interviews all candidates who apply for office. For vacancies in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, the Appellate Judicial Commission is composed of seven members. Three members are lawyers who are elected by the members of Missouri Bar Association, three members are lay people appointed by the governor, and one member is the Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court.
In Jackson County, Missouri, judicial vacancies are filled in a similar method. The Circuit Judicial Commission is comprised of five members. Two members are lawyers elected by the Missouri Bar Association, two members are lay people appointed by the governor and on member is the Chief Judge for the Western District Court of Appeals.
After reviewing the applicants, the commission nominates three people whose names are then sent to the governor. The governor interviews the three candidates, and then appoints one as judge.
In the future, the judge will face the voters. After the judge has served at least one year, he or she runs for retention in the next general election. The only issue submitted to the voters is whether the judge shall be retained. The judge does not have an opponent. In order to stay in office, the judge must obtain a majority of the vote. The judge faces a retention election at the conclusion of each term of office.
Each election year, the Missouri Bar Association puts out an informational guide to help voters become more knowledgeable about the judges. The guide rates the judges on such things as whether they treat people fairly, if they are competent in the law, and whether they weigh the evidence fairly and impartially before ruling. The guides are put together from surveys the Bar Association takes of lawyers who appear in front of the judges, and jurors who were in the courtroom for a trial.
In the 52 years since the non-partisan court plan was adopted, all judges in Jackson County have been retained by voters with more than a 50 percent majority vote.