Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

KU Professor, Kansas GOP Urge Constitutional Amendment on Supreme Court Selection

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

KU Professor, Kansas GOP Urge Constitutional Amendment on Supreme Court Selection

Article excerpt

A University of Kansas professor and the executive director of the Kansas Republican Party on Wednesday pressed House members to approve a constitutional amendment overhauling the process for selecting members of the Kansas Supreme Court.

Presentations to the House GOP caucus set the stage for full House debate on an amendment to the Kansas Constitution giving governors unfettered authority to nominate justices pending confirmation by the Senate. The House voted 69-53 to advance the measure to final action, but a two-thirds majority of 84 votes is required for passage.

"The current process the state has now for selecting the state's Supreme Court is undemocratic. It is extreme and it is secret," said Stephen Ware, a KU law professor who has studied judicial selection.

Adoption of the federal model of selection as proposed by the House resolution -- a reform sought by Gov. Sam Brownback and recently implemented for the Kansas Court of Appeals -- would invest more power in the executive branch. The shift would end reliance on a nine-member Kansas nominating commission responsible for forwarding three finalists to the governor when vacancies occur on the Supreme Court.

Ware said only Kansas attorneys have the right to vote on applicants for the five seats on the nominating commission. Governors are responsible for appointing people to the other slots.

"This system makes a lawyer's vote worth more than a nonlawyer's vote," Ware said. "Lawyers don't deserve more power than their neighbors."

No state has a merit-selection process for nominating finalists for judicial vacancies exactly like the approach in Kansas, he said. Votes taken by the nominating commission members aren't publicly disclosed.

However, the existing approach does allow for public release of the list of applicants for vacancies as well as the list of three candidates forwarded to a governor. In the federal model, governors don't disclose names of applicants or finalists.

The Kansas Bar Association has lobbied to maintain the current system, while Kansans for Life and other organizations irritated by Supreme Court decisions on school finance, the death penalty and abortion have endorsed a change in the Constitution. …

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