Kansas University School of Law Professor Stephen J. Ware is at the forefront of making the reasoned case as to why Kansas needs to reform the way it selects judges to its two highest courts. He recently testified on this matter before a committee of the Kansas Legislature.
The opening of his testimony makes the case for bringing democracy to Kansas judicial selection:
No one can become a justice on the Kansas Supreme Court without being one of the three finalists chosen by the Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission. The Commission is the gatekeeper to the Kansas Supreme Court. However, the Commission is selected in a shockingly undemocratic way.
Most of the members of the Commission are picked in elections open to only about 10,000 people, the members of the state bar. The remaining 2.9 million people in Kansas have no vote in these elections.
This violates basic equality among citizens, the principle of one-person, one-vote. The current system concentrates tremendous power in one small group and treats everyone else like second-class citizens. In a democracy, a lawyer’s vote should not be worth more than any other citizen’s vote. As Washburn University School of Law professor Jeffrey Jackson wrote, democratic legitimacy “would appear to favor a reduction in the influence of the state bar and its members over the nominating commission, because they do not fit within the democratic process.”
Ware’s testimony was offered in support of SCR 1601. This measure would change the system so that judges on the Kansas Court of Appeals and Kansas Supreme Court are nominated by the governor and confirmed (or not) by the senate. Judges would stand for retention elections every six years, as they do now.