Most people who discuss the selection of judges argue that the Missouri Plan is the best method of selection of judges.
The Missouri Plan provides for “merit” based appointments. The initial appointment is by the Governor who is given a list of 3 – 5 “qualified candidates” by an independent and qualified committee. Then, after a couple of years, the judge’s name is placed on the ballot for “a retention vote.” If a majority of voters say yes, the judge is “retained” for a full term.
The National Judicial College article included this quote, “Appointment with retention … provides accountability and keeps money and politics out of judicial selection.” It also gave the example of the three Iowa Supreme Court justices lost retention votes after they voted to legalize gay marriage.
The first consideration is whether “merit” selection brings actual “merit” to the selection process. In his excellent law journal article on the subject, Judge Leslie Southwick said this about “merit” selection:
The potential for merit actually being the basis for selection exists in theory. The practice in the states has not been convincing. A potential is that committee politics will substitute for electoral politics. My first close encounter with Missouri appellate judges was at a judicial seminar not long after I was elected. A small number of judges from around the country were meeting. In the beginning rituals appropriate for such meetings, we each gave a few details about ourselves including how we were selected. The first of the four Missouri appellate judges to perform this task said, with emphasis to make clear his sarcasm, that he was chosen through the merit system. He laughed and said that merit being combined with knowing the right people were the essentials in his selection. His Missouri colleagues agreed when giving their stories.
Certainly, in theory, the Missouri Plan seems to bridge the divide that most are concerned with in judicial elections. However, the Missouri Plan is not perfect.
Regardless, everytime I talk about the Missouri Plan I feel as if I have wasted some time in my life. We Mississippian’s like our elections too much to ever change our laws to provide for this type of selection of judges.