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Elmo Bolton Hunter

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Elmo Bolton Hunter, a federal judge, has been a leader in national efforts to take party politics out of the state courts through the adoption of judicial merit selection programs. (Under most merit selection systems, a nonpartisan commission of lawyers and nonlawyers evaluates candidates for judicial vacancies and sends recommendations to, usually, a governor, who makes appointments.) In 1990, the American Judicature Society (AJS) funded the first national clearinghouse for information on merit selection; located at AJS headquarters in Chicago, it is known as the Elmo B. Hunter Center for Judicial Selection. The AJS also gives the Elmo B. Hunter Award annually to a person who has made significant improvement in the judicial selection process.

Hunter was born in St. Louis on October 23, 1915. He attended the University of Missouri—Columbia, receiving a bachelor of arts degree in 1936 and a bachelor of laws degree in 1938. Named Phi Beta Kappa as an undergraduate, he continued his academic excellence in law school. Hunter graduated first in his class and was elected to the ORDER OF THE COIF. He was also a member of the law review and author of numerous articles.

In his final year of law school, Hunter was chosen by the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri to receive the Judge Shepard Barclay Award for "the greatest contribution in moral leadership to the school." Also in 1938, Hunter was selected by the board to represent the University of Missouri—and the state of Missouri—in the Rhodes Scholarship selection competition.

Hunter was admitted to the Missouri bar in 1938 and to the federal bar in 1939. He served as a law clerk to Judge Kimbrough Stone Sr., from 1938 to 1939. Following his ADMISSION TO THE BAR and clerkship, he accepted a position as senior assistant city counselor for Kansas City, Missouri. He left the position in 1940 to pursue graduate work in law, under a Cook Fellowship, at the University of Michigan.

In 1941, Hunter took a job as special assistant to the U.S. district attorney for the Western District of Missouri and Kansas, where he prosecuted war FRAUD cases. After a year, he joined the U.S. Army, and he served in military intelligence at the rank of first lieutenant from 1942 to 1945.

After WORLD WAR II, he joined the firm of Sebree, Shook, Hardy, and Hunter, and began the PRACTICE OF LAW. He also married Shirley Arnold during these years and fathered his only child, Nancy A. Hunter.

Hunter gave up the practice of law when he was appointed to the state circuit court by Governor Forrest Smith on December 12, 1951. Along with his new judicial duties, Hunter began a ten-year stint as a law instructor at the University of Missouri in 1952. For his work, he received the university's Outstanding Alumni Service Award in 1955.

In 1957, he was appointed to the Kansas City Court of Appeals. Following his appointment, Hunter served, by special order, as special judge to the Missouri Supreme Court, and he often sat with the Springfield Court of Appeals and the St. Louis Court of Appeals—and therefore has served on every appellate court in the state of Missouri. He also has seen every type and variation of political influence brought to bear on the judges and courts in Missouri. During his years of service in the Missouri courts, he developed an interest in both the judicial selection process and the improved administration of justice.

In August 1965, President LYNDON B. JOHNSON appointed Hunter U.S. district judge for the Western District of Missouri. It was as a federal judge that Hunter began his distinguished commitment to the AJS. He served on the board of the AJS in 1966 and was elected vice president in 1967. He went on to serve as president, and he is the only person in the history of the AJS to have served as both president and chairman of the board, which he did simultaneously in 1969–70. As an AJS leader, Hunter spearheaded the organization's national efforts to promote merit selection systems for judges. He traveled across the United States to promote the concept and practice of merit selection, and he participated in hundreds of citizen conferences to discuss the issue. In conjunction with his efforts to promote merit selection, he was largely responsible for the E. G. Marshall–narrated movie titled Who Shall Judge (1974). In recognition of the role he played in citizen education on this important issue, Hunter received the AJS's Herbert Harley Award in 1975.


As a federal judge, Hunter has also made his presence felt within the U.S. Judicial Conference, which establishes the standards and shapes the policies governing the federal judiciary. Hunter became a member of the Judicial Conference's Committee on Court Administration in 1969 and was named committee chairman in 1978. His appointment as chairman followed his term as chairman of the Subcommittee on Judicial

Improvements from 1976 to 1978. Former chief justice WARREN E. BURGER said Hunter was "a credit to all judges who recognize that the delivery of our product is at least as important as the quality of it."

Hunter took senior (or semiretired) status in 1980, shortly after handing down his noteworthy ruling that the NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN was within its rights in promoting an economic boycott of Missouri because the state had not approved the proposed EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT (State of Missouri v. National Organization for Women, Inc., 620 F.2d 1301 [8th Cir. 1980]). As a senior judge, Hunter heard the case of a Los Angeles drug dealer caught with PCP at the Kansas City Airport. He sentenced the defendant to life in prison without PAROLE, marking the first time a federal judge applied the mandatory penalty under the United States's three-strikes drug law. 21 U.S.C.A. § 841 (2000). Though many said the law violated constitutional protection against CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT, Hunter disagreed. "I thought about the constitutional aspects," said Hunter. "I am satisfied that the statute is lawful."

In 1987, Hunter received the Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award. This award—named for Edward J. Devitt, former chief U.S. district judge for Minnesota—acknowledges the dedication and contributions to justice made by all federal judges, by recognizing the specific achievements of one judge who has contributed significantly to the profession. Hunter was acknowledged for his devotion to public education and to the administration of justice. Devitt said, "[Hunter] has been the mainstay in the judiciary's self-improvement efforts for more than 20 years."

In 1991, the AJS established the Elmo B. Hunter Citizens Center for Judicial Selection. The center conducts and distributes empirical research on a wide range of issues related to judicial selection. In 2000, the AJS honored Hunter with its Distinguished Service Award, given for significant contributions to the AJS and the nation in promoting the effective administration of justice.

Hunter continues to serve the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, keeping a full criminal and civil docket. He also sits regularly on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and accepts special sittings outside the circuit.

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