Merit Selection – The Missouri Plan

An excerpt from Southwick, The Least of Evils for Judicial Selection, 21 Miss. C. L. Rev. 209, 212-13 (2002):

II. The Various Judicial Selection Methods

B. Merit Selection

Since Missouri was the first state to adopt a plan proposed by academicians beginning in 1914, it has earned the name “Missouri Plan.” There are variants, but the concept is that a small group of individuals are appointed by specific governmental and Bar officials to a nominating commission. Interviews, background investigations or other preliminary work may be undertaken. They agree on a list of perhaps three names to submit to the governor. From this list, the governor must choose the appointee. After the passage of a designated period as judge, the appointee will be voted on by the people in an election not against an opponent, but just as an up or down vote on retention. If retained, the judge continues in office for a much longer period before needing again to face the voters.

The make-up of the commission is of considerable importance. In Missouri, the commission consists of lawyers selected by the bar association, non-lawyers selected by the governor, and a sitting judge who chairs the commission.12

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.

(Emphasis added).

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