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October 2007 Non-Partisan Court Plan

"Justice, justice, shall you pursue."
Deuteronomy

Missourians depend on fair and impartial courts to provide stable and rational resolution of disputes, protect property and economic interests, and, when needed, protect people from the overreaching of government. In 1940, Missouri voters chose to put a stop to political control of their courts. In approving the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan, they ensure judges would be appointed based on merit---not political connections—and would be kept in office only by voter approval.

The Missouri Plan should be preserved:

1. The Non-Partisan Court Plan works. It provides a proven method of selecting judicial applicants based on merit and ability. Before judicial retention elections are held, Missouri lawyers anonymously rate all non-partisan judges who will be standing for retention. The evaluations––which are widely distributed to the public––consistently indicate that judges who pass the rigorous screening process of the judicial retention selection committee make excellent judges.

2. Since being introduced in Missouri, the Plan has become a model for the nation. More than 30 other states have adopted parts of the Non-Partisan Court Plan to improve their court systems. When states reform the way judges are elected, they invariably adopt elements of the Non-Partisan Court Plan.

3. The Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan engenders public confidence in the courts.
• Highly qualified applicants are more willing to apply for openings on the bench under merit selection because they want a career based on their understanding of law, not based on politics.
• Lawyers who are selected by judicial commissions have the necessary qualifications to serve as judges. Professional qualifications are emphasized and political credentials are de-emphasized.
• Judges chosen under the Non-Partisan Court Plan don't find themselves presiding over cases brought by attorneys who gave them campaign contributions.

4. Increasingly, states that elect their appellate level judges are seeing judges rely on negative advertising and multi-million dollar judicial campaigns. Not only does this convey a negative image of the judiciary, but it also gives the impression that a seat on a state's high court is for sale. The ads used in the Illinois Supreme Court race are a prime example of the extremely negative portrayal of a state court system that relies on partisan election of appellate judges.

5. Differences of opinion about individual decisions will always exist. The business community benefits where the rule of law is predictable. The Missouri Plan provides for stability, continuity and promotes public confidence in the judiciary.

6. Non-partisan judges are accountable to the public through retention elections.

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