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Celebrating 75 Years of the Missouri Plan

Missourians Have Something Big to Celebrate This Nov. 5

Seventy-five years ago today, Missouri voters adopted Missouri’s Non-Partisan Court Plan, now known around the world as the Missouri Plan. The plan reduces the influence of politics and money in the selection of our judges, while giving the people the final say in retention elections. Since Missouri voters adopted it in 1940, more than 30 states have copied it in some form making it a model for the nation.

Here’s a quick glance of the history that spurred our parents and grandparents to be the first in the nation to adopt merit selection for our judges:

  • 1930s:
    Pendergast
    During the 1930s, the public became increasingly dissatisfied with the increasing role of politics and money in judicial elections and judicial decision-making. At the time, political machines like that of “Boss” Tom Pendergast would buy votes, packing the Supreme Court, among other state and local offices, with appointees of his political persuasion. Pendergast was leader of the Kansas City political organization known as the “Pendergast machine” which controlled the ballot box through fraud, manipulation, violence and service to the poor. Ultimately, 278 members of the “machine” were indicted for voter fraud and Pendergast spend more than a year in federal prison for tax evasion.
  • 1937:
    In December 1937, more than 80 people – Republicans and Democrats – got together at the Tiger Hotel in Columbia, Mo., to create the Missouri Institute for the Administration of Justice. The group proposed merit selection of judges in order to return the courts to the people. Nearly every prominent lawyer from across the state at the time, including St. Louis lawyer Kenneth Teasdale and Cape Girardeau lawyer Rush Limbaugh, rose up to fight back.
  • 1940:
    MO Plan Sigs
    Citizens collected the needed number of signatures, shown here being delivered to the Secretary of State’s Office in Jefferson City on July 2, 1940, in order to put the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan on the Nov. 5, 1940 ballot. Fed up with corrupt judicial elections, the people of Missouri adopted the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan that November becoming the first state to adopt a merit system for selecting judges.

Today, the Missouri Plan continues to be right for the people of Missouri because it attracts high-quality judges in the least political way and ultimately gives the people the final say. It governs selection and retention of all appellate court judges in the state of Missouri and trial judges in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis, Jackson, Clay, Platte and Greene Counties.

To commemorate this important anniversary, The Missouri Bar has partnered with the Missouri Humanities Council to produce a traveling exhibit and courthouse exhibits to help educate Missourians about the plan’s history and how it works for them.

The traveling exhibit features a three-panel display and an interactive touch-screen display featuring a video explaining the history, significance and attributes of the Missouri Plan. The exhibit will travel throughout the state over the next year. The courthouse exhibit is a single-panel, educational display that contains the key points of the Missouri Plan. Courthouses and public institutions across the state are eligible to receive this exhibit at no expense. The display is ideal for smaller spaces and can be featured long-term by host courthouses, libraries or educational institutions. Both exhibits include a takeaway brochure titled “Voting for Missouri Judges” produced by The Missouri Bar.

If you are interested in featuring one or both of the Missouri Plan exhibits, please fill out the request form here.

Missouri is historically, and remains, a national leader for integrity, fairness and justice thanks to the Missouri Plan. And that’s something to celebrate!

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