When it comes to judicial selection, my home state of Missouri was a place of ingenuity. 
In 1940, the Show-Me State established a system of appointing judges based on a candidate’s qualification rather than the selectors’ politics or partisanship.
The system is now known as the “Missouri Plan,” with a number of states following suit with non-partisan, merit-based systems. 
In Missouri, a commission selects nominees for major courts from a pool of applicants. Those names are then sent to the governor, who makes the final decision. 
After one year on the bench, a judge’s name goes to the ballot for a retention election. If he or she garners a majority of the vote, the judge gets another term. 
Advocates of the system proudly claim it works and that it puts qualified candidates on the bench without a messy political process. 
“The success of the plan in selecting qualified judges is evident from the fact that, since its adoption, the public has not voted any appellate judge out of office, and only two circuit judges have been voted out of office,” reads a Missouri Courts webpage. 
Is the fact that only two judges have been voted out a success story?
Or could it simply be that voters just aren’t informed? 
Picked in a process far removed from the average voter, the first time most voters are likely see a judge’s name is on the ballot when asked to retain him or her.  
Take for example Dale W. Hood, an associate circuit judge in St. Louis County Circuit Court. 
He was put on the bench in 2005 and retained 2008 and 2012. He’s back on the ballot this year. 
In his two previous elections, a review committee set up by the Missouri Bar declared Hood shouldn’t be retained. 
However, each time he earned a majority of vote. 
Now, it’s clear some voters did their homework. In 2008 and 2012, Hood received 54.2 and 55.6 percent of the vote respectively in St. Louis County. Every other judge on the ballot received at least 64 percent.
This year, the committee overwhelmingly said no thanks to having voters keep Hood in a black robe. Just one of the 21-members on the committee endorsed Hood’s retention, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. 
Is this the year voters finally kick him out of office? I’m not holding my breath. 
The example of Hood leaves me skeptical about the Missouri Plan. Overall, it has indeed put highly-qualified people on the bench. It’s rare when the review committee is against a judge. 
But when the Missouri Plan selects a stinker, Hood’s case shows the difficulty of removing that person. 
However, the Missouri Plan stands as a stark improvement to our other forms of judicial selection.   
It avoids what our federal system of selection reaps: obstructionism and partisanship. 
The Associated Press recently reported there are 90-plus judicial vacancies in the federal courts. The article states that President Obama “nominated replacements for more than half of those spots.” 
A Republican-controlled congress has left those seats empty, but obstructionism isn’t solely a Republican tool. History shows Democrats have pounced on it too. 
One might argue that if we wanted to avoid mindless retention elections and obstructionism, we should simply elect our judges. 
There’s no doubt that’d be the most democratic form of judicial selection. However, even a robust democratic process is ripe with problems. 
Partisan elections would let voters blindly choose their candidate solely on party identification instead of legal chops. 
There’s also the campaign finance issues. It’s likely candidates would receive donations from lawyers and corporations that come before their court.  That’s a clear conflict of interest. 
During a nomination hearing in 2005, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts described a judge as an umpire.
“My job is to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat,” he said. 
The influence of money into the judicial system, which is supposedly removed from politics, could lead an “umpire” to expand or minimize his strike zone depending the donations he’s received.
The futility of retention elections, partisan obstructionism and potential conflicts of interest leave me wondering if we need to tinker with how we pick our judges. 
Maybe the best path forward is a Missouri Plan on steroids. Instead of retention elections, it might be time to let the committee that nominated the judges or a non-partisan, well-qualified review committee determine a judge’s fate. 
Take voters and politicians completely out of the process. They don’t seem to be doing their job. But maybe in a few weeks the voters of St. Louis County will prove me wrong.