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The Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan governs the selection of judges at the circuit level in six jurisdictions including Clay, Greene, Jackson, Platte and St. Louis counties and St. Louis City as well as the Court of Appeals and Missouri Supreme Court. It has served as a national model and has been adopted by several other states.
Under the nonpartisan plan, as vacancies arise, the appropriate Judicial Selection Commission interviews applicants and selects three to recommend to the governor for appointment. The governor must interview and select one of the three within 60 days.
The circuit-level judicial commissions comprise five members: two attorneys who are elected by members of the bar association and live in the circuit, two citizen members who are appointed by the governor, and the presiding judge of the Court of Appeals for the circuit. Presiding judges generally serve two-year terms and are selected by their peers. The other four members of the commission serve 6-year terms with varied expiration dates.
For vacancies in the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, the Appellate Commission makes recommendations. This commission has seven members: an attorney from each of the appellate districts elected by bar members from their respective district - Eastern, Western and Southern – and three citizen members selected by the governor representing each district. These six individuals serve six-year terms with staggered expiration dates. The seventh member of this commission is the chief judge of the Missouri Supreme Court. This position generally rotates every two years.
Judges who are appointed through the nonpartisan court plan appear on the ballot without partisan identification for retention to terms that range from 4 years to 12 years. The constitution dictates that all judges retire by age 70.
The Court of Appeals and Supreme Court have been guided by the nonpartisan system since the constitution was amended in 1976. Circuit judges in Jackson County and the city of St. Louis were included in the nonpartisan system at that time. St. Louis, Clay and Platte county voters adopted this system shortly thereafter. Most recently Greene County citizens opted to switch to the nonpartisan plan in 2008.
Currently, the remaining 109 counties in the state elect circuit judges on a partisan ballot. These counties can adopt the nonpartisan system if approved by a majority of voters in the county.