The U.S. Supreme Court has seen a lot of air time since the death of Antonin Scalia on Feb. 13, 2016, but how much do you know about the Missouri Supreme Court?
Unlike the US Supreme Court, members of the Missouri Supreme Court do not serve for life. Their term is limited to 12 years. Nor are they referred to as justices. They are called judges; only the Chief Justice is referred to as a justice.
Missouri became a state in 1821. At that time, there were three judges on the High Court. They were Mathias McGirk, John Dillar Cook, and John Rice Jones. The Court didn’t change in size until 1872, when it increased to five. The next change didn’t take place until 1890, when the Court took on its current size of seven.
In 1940, Missouri changed the way judges were appointed to the Missouri Supreme Court. Judges are now selected through a non-partisan, or merit, system. The Appellate Judicial Commission submits the names of three nominees to the Governor. If the Governor fails to make an appointment within 60 days of the nominees being named, the Commission shall make the appointment. Once the judge has served for at least a year, he or she is placed on the general election ballot for a retention vote of the people. If retained, judges serve a term of 12 years. This has been so successful that a few other states have switched to what has become known as the Missouri Plan.
Only four women have been appointed to Missouri’s Supreme Court, three of them are still serving. The first was the Honorable Ann K. Covington who was appointed in December 1988 by Governor John Ashcroft. She served until 2001 and was Chief Justice from July 1993-June 1995.
By tradition, the Chief Justice is voted on by the judges themselves for two-year terms. The current Chief Justice steps down on June 30, 2019.
The current judges on Missouri’s High Court are Laura Denvir Stith (2001), Mary Rhodes Russell (2004), Patricia Breckenridge (2007), Chief Justice Zel M. Fischer (2008), George W. Draper III (2011), Paul C. Wilson (2012), and W. Brent Powell (2017). All three women have served two-year terms as Chief Justice.
Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News for over ten years. She has covered the War Between the States, US history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s upcoming Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.firstname.lastname@example.org.