The Importance of Nonpartisan Judges

August 19, 2015



by Tim Dollar

If the people of Jackson County reach the point where they no longer have confidence that our judges are impartial and free of prejudice, our legal system will collapse. We can never allow that to happen.

That’s why the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan was created years ago, to ensure the public is served by qualified, impartial and nonpartisan judges. When we allow money to determine who our judges are, or allow it to influence those we have elected to be judges, we are sowing the seeds of injustice. All attorneys should be able to try their cases in front of a judge who is free from obvious political biases.

Under Missouri’s Plan, nonpartisan judicial commissions are created at every level of the legal system to review applications and help seat potential judges. After a rigorous selection process, we narrow the list to those we consider the three best candidates, and forward those names to the governor. Following a careful review, the governor chooses the best candidate in his or her opinion. Periodically, the public decides in general elections whether or not a judge continues.

I was elected by my peers to serve on one of these commissions for six years.

In all of those years, not once did any of the commissioners I served with ask a candidate about his or her political affiliation. We never had any idea whether the candidates who appeared before us were Democrats, Republicans or independents; and that’s how it should be.

It probably won’t surprise you that the Missouri Plan has powerful opponents who want to dismantle it for political reasons. A few people, who would benefit from judges they controlled, are largely behind these efforts. To date, we have been able to defeat these attempts and it’s a good thing for everyone that we have.

I am a strong advocate for the plan. While not perfect, I believe it is the best way to make sure our judges are fair and impartial. Most of the time, we get it right. And when the public feels otherwise, they can vote any judge out of office.