Our State Courts project draws your attention to an editorial in today's Wall Street Journal lamenting the effect of the Missouri Plan for judicial selection in, fittingly enough, Missouri. Many states use the plan, which was intended to be an improvement over choosing judges via elections. Under the system, a non-partisan commission selects the "best qualified" among the candidates for a judicial vacancy, a slate that is then forwarded to the state's governor. The governor may choose his selection from the pre-selected candidates. If he does not do so within a particular timeframe, the commission itself chooses the selection.
According to the article, "The Missouri Plan was intended to get politics out of the courtroom but has instead handed disproportionate power to trial lawyers and state bar associations. The effect has been to insulate the backroom-dealing from public scrutiny while stocking state courts with liberal judges." As a case in point, the editors describe the slate of candidates recently selected in Missouri:
Leading the trio sent to Governor Jay Nixon is Joe Jacobson, a trial lawyer whose firm, Green Jacobson, is known for its work in securities fraud, lender liability and consumer class actions. A second nominee, County Circuit Judge Michael Manners, spent two decades as a trial lawyer himself, eventually serving as president of the Missouri Association of Trial Lawyers. Rounding out the trio is George Draper III, a state appeals-court judge and African-American who received the fewest votes (four) from the seven nominators.
Should you wish to explore this subject in far greater detail, see the dueling white papers the Federalist Society published in 2003: one arguing the case for judicial appointments, the other arguing the case for partisan judicial elections.
UPDATE: For a more recent analysis that examines the constitutionality of appointment plans, see George Mason University law professor Nelson Lund's 2011 article "May Lawyers be Given the Power to Elect Those Who Choose Our Judges? ‘Merit Selection’ and Constitutional Law."