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Report No. 80

3.10. U.S.A.- State Courts.-

As regards judges of superior courts in States in the U.S.A., the position has been thus stated in a fairly recent study:1

"Judicial Selection in the States.- In the States, judges are selected by election, by appointment, or by a combination of both methods. The practice of electing judges was one of the bequests of Jacksonian democracy. Prior to 1832 only one State elected all its judges, but every State admitted to the Union from 1846 to 1959 has provided for the election of all or most of its judges. In 1971 election was the principal method of judicial selection in twenty-seven States (on partisan ballot in fourteen States and non-partisan in thirteen); the legislatures elected the judges in four States; there was executive appointment in nine States; and a 'merit plan' existed in eleven States."

The merit plan, also called the Missouri plan, is a compromise between appointing and electing judges. Under this arrangement several commissions are established to nominate judges at different court levels. The appellate commission consists of seven members; the chief justice of the state, three lawyers elected by the state bar association, and three persons appointed by the governor, none of whom can be a public office holder or an official of a political party. With the exception of the chief justice, these members serve for six years, with their terms staggered so that two retire every other year.

The commission nominates three men for each judicial vacancy. The governor must appoint one of the three. At the first election after the new judge has served for twelve months, his name is put on the ballot with the question whether he should be retained in office. If elected, no serves a definite term-twelve years for an appellate judge, six years for a trial judge. At the end of this term he is eligible for re-election. Whether the Missouri plan really recruits judges on the basis of merit is open to question. (Reading 6.8). What is clear is that selection is no less political although the political arena tends to be that of bar associations, rather than a public forum in which citizens have a check if not a voice."

1. Murphy & Pritchett Courts, Judges and Politics, (1974), p. 163.

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