Missouri Plan in the United States
A technique of judicial selection that contains elements of both elective and appointive methods. The Missouri Plan originated in the early 1900s as judicial reformers sought ways to heighten judicial independence and competence. The plan, first advanced by the American Judicature Society as part of its more comprehensive package of reforms, was first adopted in Missouri in 1940. Eighteen states now use the Missouri Plan as their method of judicial selection for at least a portion, if not all, of their courts. The Missouri Plan, referred to as “merit” selection by its advocates, involves a number of steps to be fully implemented. The process begins with a commission that nominates judicial candidates. These commissions are typically composed of 9 to 15 members selected by the governor. The commissions tend to be dominated by representatives of the legal profession and are likely to include at least one sitting judge. The commission sends a list of nominees (usually three to five names) to the governor, who makes the appointment from the list. After a specified period (usually a year or so), a retention election is conducted and the electorate determines whether the judge is retained for a more lengthy period, at the end of which another retention election takes place. There is no opposition candidate in a retention election. Rather, the judge runs against his or her record on the bench. If a judge is not retained, a vacancy exists and the commission begins the process again.
Analysis and Relevance
The Missouri Plan was designed to replace partisanship with professional merit as the decisive factor injudicial selection. Partisanship is not altogether eliminated, however, and manifests itself most commonly in the selection of commission members. At the same time, the deliberations of the commission function as a screen, and prospects with modest legal credentials are usually not advanced as nominees to the governor. The plan does strengthen the hand of the legal profession in judicial selection. The key step appears to be gubernatorial appointment. Data show that in excess of 98 percent of judges are retained at the election stage. In effect, Missouri Plan judges seem to acquire life tenure. The Missouri Plan is now the technique states adopt if they choose to change their selection process. Indeed, every state making a change over the past several decades has adopted some form of the Missouri Plan. A number of states are currently considering making the switch to such “merit” selection.
Notes and References
- Definition of Missouri Plan from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California
Concept of Missouri Plan
In the U.S., in the context of State Government and/or Local Government, Missouri Plan has the following meaning: A non-partisan method of selecting state judges. A screening committee reviews applications for judgeships, chooses a short list of the ones they consider best, and forwards the list to the governor, who must choose a nominee from that list. After a period of service (e.g., one year) appointed judges then face a retention election in which the public decides only whether to retain or remove a judge. If a judge loses a retention election, a new judge is appointed by the same process. (Source of this definition of Missouri Plan : University of Texas)
- State Government
- Local Government
- Local Government Law