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Law and Government of Missouri
Within Missouri, there are three levels of government:
- state government
Missouri's state capital is Jefferson City lying approximately halfway between its two largest cities, St. Louis on the eastern border and Kansas City on the western border. The organization of Missouri's state government is similar to many of the other states in the United States. Its constitution specifies the organizational structure of the state's government in addition to other basic rules and procedures. These are covered in the following subsections.
State Government Organization
The current constitution of Missouri, the fourth constitution for the state, was adopted in 1945 and provides for 3 branches of government, the legislative, judicial and executive branches.
The legislative branch, called the General Assembly, is specified in Article III of the Missouri Constitution. The General Assembly consists of two bodies, the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The House of Representatives has 163 members who are elected every 2 years. Each Representative may serve at most 4 terms.
The Senate consists of 34 members from districts divided such that the population of each district is approximately equal. The Senators are elected for 4 year terms; terms are staggered so that half of the Senate is elected every two years. Each Senator may serve at most 2 terms.
Voting districts for both houses are apportioned based on the last decennial census. A commission is set up by the Governor to recommend the new districts. The two parties who had the most votes in the last gubernatorial election select the nominees for the commission and the Governor selects from among these. In practice, the two parties are the Democrat and Republican parties.
The Missouri constitution does not allow a referendum for the district apportionment.
The executive branch (Article IV) is headed by the governor, who is charged with executing the laws of the state. The governor is elected for 4 years and can serve two terms. He or she must be at least 30 years of age, a Missouri resident for at least 10 years, and a U.S. citizen for at least 15 years before holding office.
There is also a lieutenant governor, required to have the same qualifications as the governor, who is an ex officio president of the Senate. The lieutenant governor is allowed to debate any and all questions before the Senate as a whole and may cast the deciding ballot in case of a tie. Additionally, the lieutenant governor assumes the office of governor in case of the governor's death, resignation, or incapacity.
- the state supreme court.
- court of appeals.
- 44 circuit courts.
- associate circuit courts.
Seven judges comprise the State Supreme Court and hold court in the state's capital, Jefferson City. Unlike the life term appointments made to the Supreme Court of the United States, these judges hold the position for 12 years. Judges for the court of appeals hold their office for 12 years as well, but circuit court judges have terms of 6 years and associate circuit court judges have terms of 4 years. There are no term limits for judges, though there is a mandatory retirement age of 76 years.
Missouri pioneered a unique way of selecting judges for its supreme court and court of appeals in an effort to remove some of the partisan politics from the selection process. Article V Sect 25(a) of the Missouri Constitution specifies a process, known as the Missouri Plan, to appoint judges to the following courts:
- State Supreme Court
- State Courts of Appeals
- circuit and probate courts in the independent City of St. Louis
- circuit and probate courts in Jackson County
- any other circuit court where a majority of voters choose to adopt nonpartisan appointment (currently St. Louis County, Clay County, and Platte County)
When a position becomes available in one of the above courts, a nonpartisan commission reviews applications, interviews candidates, and submits three nominees to the Governor. The Governor then appoints one of the three nominees to fill the vacant position. Finally, in the first general election 1 year or more after the appointment, the judge must be retained by the voters before serving a full term.
Judges for all other courts are elected directly by the voters.
County and City Government
Counties with more than 85,000 people may elect their own charters, smaller ones must use the standard charter dictated by the state.
Missouri allows cities to adopt their own charter should they chose to do so; it was the first state in the union to do so. Regardless of the freedom given to city governments, most municipalities choose to organize their local government around a mayor and a city council. Council members are typically elected in either city wide or district elections.
The complete list of state statutes may be found on the Missouri web site http://www.state.mo.us. What follows is a selection of a very small set.
Capital punishment is permitted in Missouri by its constitution. The constitution mandates that all death sentences must be reviewed by the state's supreme court and it gives the defendant the right of a direct appeal to supreme court for any conviction whose punishment is the death sentence. The constitution allows for either lethal injection or gas (Sec 546.720). Before 1937, Missouri hanged those that received a death sentence. Prior to 1965, executions were performed using lethal gas, but since then, Missouri uses lethal injection. The minimum age for receiving the death penalty is 16. Since 1930, the following executions have been performed:
- hanging: 6? until 1937
- gas: 39 until 1966
- injection: 60
In 2002, Missouri had 6 executions, placing it 4th in the nation after Texas (33), Indiana (9), and Oklahoma (7). Considering the number of executions performed since 1976, Missouri with 61 executions follows only Texas (336), Virginia (87) and Oklahoma.
As of April 1, 2004, there were 58 inmates in Missouri death row.
Until 2004, Missouri standed with 12 other states in the United States for a total of 13 states making sodomy illegal. Consensual acts that were allowed for married couples were prohibited by law for same sex partners. Missouri's statute 566.090 prohibited sexual intercourse between those of the same sex as a class A misdemeanor.
Like the rest of the nation, the two dominant parties in Missouri are the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. These parties have been responsible for establishing the voting districts, casting the votes in the electoral college as well as fielding candidates for the general elections and help determining legislative policy and priorities.
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