Don't let lawmakers pollute selection of Kansas judges
The Kansas City Star
The Kansas House needs to halt a change to a judicial selection system that has served the state well for decades.
The Senate this week approved a 2014 statewide vote on a constitutional amendment that would empower the governor to select judges on the Kansas Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.
However nobly the motives are cloaked, this is a power grab. Gov. Sam Brownback wants to select judges who think the way he does, regardless of their record or status in the legal community. Unfortunately, too many legislators are willing to help him achieve that goal.
Since 1958, Kansas has used a nominating commission to screen judicial candidates. The panel consists of five lawyers elected by the membership of the Kansas Bar Association, and four non-lawyers appointed by the governor. They recommend a panel of three finalists, and the governor makes the final selection.
Critics say that makeup gives lawyers too much power. But Brownback and lawmakers have been unreceptive to offers from the Kansas Bar Association to realign the commission so that the majority of members would be appointed by the governor or legislators.
Instead, the lawmakers want Kansas voters to amend the constitution so that the governor would singlehandedly select judges, subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Those pushing for the change contend it would make the judiciary more responsive to the citizens.
Actually, it would make judges more responsive to politics, and the wishes of the governor and the majority party in the Legislature. That’s not healthy for the state and its citizens.
Kansas courts are known for high-quality judges. That would gradually erode, as merit becomes less of a qualification for selection.
In one of those ironic twists we see often in Kansas government, a governor and lawmakers who decry nearly everything about the federal government want to adopt the federal judicial selection process.
But states like Kansas have already found a better way. The nonpartisan selection process avoids the brutal hearings and indecision that prevail in Washington. Dozens of judgeships are vacant at the federal level because of political gamesmanship.
The resolution needs a two-thirds vote by the Kansas House to be placed on a statewide ballot in 2014. House members of both parties have a chance to stand up for independent and meritorious courts by voting “no.”