Supreme Court Judges
From the Supreme Court of Missouri's inception in 1820 until 1850, the governor appointed judges to the Supreme Court with the advice and consent of the state senate. In 1851, the constitution was amended to require popular election of Supreme Court judges. Since 1940, the selection of Supreme Court judges has been governed by the merit-based nonpartisan court plan.
When it was established in 1820, the Supreme Court had three judges. Its size increased to five judges in 1872 and, in 1890, to its present size of seven judges. Also in 1890, the Supreme Court was divided into two divisions to allow it to handle more cases and resolve them more quickly. Divisions were eliminated in 1976 by the constitutional amendments to the Court's organization. The Court now typically sits on cases "en banc," or “all together” so that a decision is truly a decision of the seven-member Supreme Court, not of just a division of the Court.
The qualifications for Supreme Court judges are governed by article V, section 21 of the Missouri constitution. A Supreme Court judge must be at least 30 years old, licensed to practice law in Missouri, a United States citizen for at least 15 years, and a qualified voter of the state for nine years preceding selection. Pursuant to article V, section 19 of the Missouri constitution, the regular term of a Supreme Court judge is 12 years, and a judge may seek to serve for multiple terms. All judges must retire at the age of 70, although if they wish, they can apply for senior status, which permits them to continue hearing cases on a limited basis.
Pursuant to the state’s constitution, the only judge in Missouri who is referred to as a “justice” is the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Other judges are referred to as “judge.” By tradition, the chief justice typically is elected on a rotating basis by a vote of all seven Supreme Court judges to a two-year term.
The Supreme Court judges together govern the state’s judicial branch of government, led by the chief justice.