Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Kansas Judicial Selection Amendment Stays Alive, Short Two-Thirds Margin to Pass

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Kansas Judicial Selection Amendment Stays Alive, Short Two-Thirds Margin to Pass

Article excerpt

House proponents of an amendment to the state constitution overhauling selection of Kansas Supreme Court justices on Wednesday fell 15 votes shy of the necessary two-thirds majority required to advance the measure to the Senate.

Republican advocates of replacing a controversial judicial nominating commission with a system in which the governor's unilateral choices were subject to Senate confirmation need a total of 84 votes to keep the amendment alive. The Senate likewise would have to affirm the resolution by a supermajority before the amendment went on a statewide ballot.

More than a dozen House members delivered speeches on the judicial branch before the preliminary 69-53 vote set the stage for final action that could occur Thursday. Nearly half of opposition to the amendment came from Republicans. The debate occurred in the context of August and November elections for all state representatives and senators.

"We need to increase the power of the people to select a third co- equal branch of state government," said Rep. James Todd, an Overland Park Republican who led the House faction urging adoption of the amendment. "The nominating commission, by its very design, cuts out the people of Kansas."

He criticized a process in place since a Supreme Court appointment scandal in 1958 that left vetting of applicants for vacancies to nine members of a judicial nominating commission. Kansas governors possess responsibility for appointing four commissioners, but the five others are chosen by the vote of about 10,000 Kansas attorneys.

Rep. Dick Jones, R-Topeka, said he didn't want U.S. generals deciding when the nation went to war. He didn't believe doctors should have a right to decide whom to cure. And, he said, lawyers shouldn't have an edge in who sits on the Supreme Court.

"That, under any definition, cannot be fair," Jones said.

Under the state's merit-selection system for appointing justices to the high court, the commission recommends three finalists to a governor. The state's chief executive draws upon that list to make appointments to the Supreme Court.

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, said the current approach was formulated to strike a balance between providing a voice for the people and protecting against what Founding Fathers referred to as tyranny of the majority.

"We have ample participation," Carmichael said. "The job of judging is to not always follow the whims of popular opinion."

The Topeka delegation delivered "yes" votes from Republicans Jones, Ken Corbet and Lane Hemsley and "no" votes by Democrats Annie Tietze, John Alcala, Annie Kuether and Ben Scott, as well as Republican Fred Patton.

Several representatives addressing colleagues during House debate said they were motivated to challenge the organizational precedent because of Supreme Court rulings in cases on the death penalty, abortion and school finance. …

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