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The Secretary of State today announced that the initiative petition that would have replaced the Non-Partisan Court Plan with partisan election of judges failed by a wide margin to get the signatures required to earn a spot on the ballot this fall.
“Missourians recognize that electing appellate and metropolitan judges is a bad idea. The failure of the initiative shows once again that our citizens are determined to keep big money and partisan politics out of our courts,” said H.A. (Skip) Walther, president of The Missouri Bar. “For more than 70 years, Missouri’s Non-Partisan Court Plan has served as the national model for ensuring that highly qualified judges serve in state courts, and we intend to keep merit selection alive in our state.”
County clerks in the nine Missouri Congressional Districts counted and validated signatures before submitting their counts to the Secretary of State’s Office. Their reports indicate that the initiative failed in eight of nine Congressional Districts, falling far short of meeting Missouri’s constitutional requirement for earning a position on the ballot. To qualify, initiative proponents needed to gather signatures from 8 percent of the legal voters in two thirds of the Congressional Districts.
The failure was particularly striking, considering that initiative proponents spent more than $1.7 million dollars in the effort to collect signatures throughout the state.
The Missouri Bar is a strong supporter of the Non-Partisan Court Plan, beginning in 1940 by joining the campaign for its adoption and continuing through the present. Under the Plan a panel of lawyers and non-lawyers evaluate candidates who apply for each opening on the bench, then recommend the three most qualified persons to the governor, who appoints one.
After a year on the bench, the new judge goes before voters in a retention election, and the people of Missouri have the final say on whether the judge serves a full term. The plan is used for selecting judges of the Missouri Supreme Court, judges of the Missouri Court of Appeals, and trial judges in St. Louis City and County, and Jackson, Clay, Platte and Greene counties. In other parts of the state, trial-level judges run in partisan races.