by Sharon Jones
Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys (MATA) tracks hundreds bills each year during the legislative session. All of the bills we monitor center around a single principle – the cornerstone of justice is Article 1 Section 14 of the Missouri Constitution which provides access to a fair and open trial before a jury of peers. In order to ensure our jury trials remain fair and open, we must preserve our current merit-based judicial selection plan, “The Missouri Plan.”
The Missouri Plan was developed in 1940 amid concern that political parties had too much influence in the judicial branch through the judicial appointment process. We abandoned the Federal appoint and confirm system in favor of a new process for our appellate judges and the bigger counties in Missouri. A committee made up of one judge, three attorneys, and three lay persons would interview applicants and nominate three people for the Governor to choose from. The attorneys are elected by the licensed attorneys in their district, the lay persons are appointed by the Governor, and the judge is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The nominee who gets appointed by the Governor must then stand for retention election every six years in order to keep their post. Six counties in Missouri (St. Louis City, St. Louis County, Jackson County, Clay County, Platte County, and Greene County) have also adopted The Missouri Plan for their local judicial selection process.
The vast majority of attorneys (regardless of their type of practice) agree that our judicial selection plan works. The reason is clear. Our Missouri Plan is based on finding the most unbiased, competent, and well-respected applicants and putting them forward as nominees. It doesn’t matter how politically involved you are, if you are not the most qualified candidate, your name is not sent to the Governor. The Missouri Plan gives more weight to the qualifications of judicial applicants than any other judicial selection method.
As proposals are made from time to time to end our merit selection process in favor of direct election or appoint and confirm, it is important to remember political corruption was the reason we abandoned the Federal appointment system in the first place. The Missouri Plan may have its flaws, but it works well. It works so well that 31 other states have adopted a merit-selection process.
It is almost certain that there will continue to be efforts to do away with The Missouri Plan in favor of a more political process. The last time an effort to insert politics into the judicial selection process was put before the voters was 2012. The voters spoke up loud and clear in favor of our current plan and defeated the proposal with 76% of the vote. Missourians have spoken – leave politics out of the courtroom.