Judicial Nominating Commission Sparks Debate in Kansas

A statewide judicial nominating commission in Kansas passed over Gov. Sam Brownback’s (photo) preferred choices in naming finalists for a vacant Kansas Court of Appeals seat, and Gov. Brownback and his allies in the legislature are asking again whether Kansas needs to change the way it selects its judges, the Associated Press reports.

As required under the state’s judicial selection system, the commission selected three finalists from a pool of 20 applicants. Gov. Brownback has until January 14 to appoint one of the three or the Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice will select who fills the vacancy.

Conservative lawmakers and other individuals have complained that the commission tends to favor moderate to left-leaning attorneys. The state Legislature takes no part in the selection of Appeals Court judges or Supreme Court justices, the article says.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer says that the state’s selection process “tends to exclude others who are equally qualified because they don’t fit the preferred political profile.”

Gov. Brownback has previously pushed for a selection system that would allow the governor to appoint whomever he chooses, and require those appointments to be confirmed by the state Senate. Kinzer says some lawmakers would prefer to hold elections for judges.

A Wichita Eagle opinion says that the individuals who sit on the judicial nominating commission are “knowledgeable and insulated from politics” and can select good judges.

Four of the commission members are appointed by the governor, four are attorneys selected by attorneys, and the commission is chaired by an attorney who is elected by their peers in the legal field. Members serve a term of four years.

This system assures “input from the public and the special knowledge of lawyers,” the opinion says. Legislators, however, are saying that the system is so broken that it must be “fixed” with a process similar to the way judges are chosen on the federal level.

The Kansas Senate has previously tried to replace merit selection of judges, but a bill that would have subjected nominees to Senate confirmation was voted down 22-17 earlier this year (see Gavel Grab).

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