Kansas reasonable: Judicial selection

Kansas Republicans who promote themselves as the “reasonable” candidates — “traditional” Republicans, they like to say — support a method of judicial selection in Kansas that is not democratic. In fact, Kansas is at the undemocratic extreme in judicial selection.

Kansas University law professor Stephen J. Ware has extensively researched and written on the method of judicial selection in the United States. His paper The Bar’s Extraordinarily Powerful Role in Selecting the Kansas Supreme Court reports that in Kansas, a select group of lawyers has tremendous control over the nominating process for the Kansas Court of Appeals and Kansas Supreme Court. It’s a process that desperately needs reform, despite the effort that Kansas lawyers spend defending their elite privileges and powers in this regard. “Reasonable” Republicans enable them.

Ware wrote this in a Lawrence Journal-World editorial:

What makes the Kansas Supreme Court selection process unusual is not that it’s political, but that it gives so much political power to the bar (the state’s lawyers). Kansas is the only state that gives its bar majority control over the commission that nominates Supreme Court justices. It’s no surprise that members of the Kansas bar are happy with the current system because it gives them more power than the bar has in any of the other 49 states and allows them to exercise that power in secret, without any accountability to the public.

In the conclusion to his paper, he summarized: “In supreme court selection, the bar has more power in Kansas than in any other state. This extraordinary bar power gives Kansas the most elitist and least democratic supreme court selection system in the country.”

Defenders of the present system say it keeps politics out of judicial selection. But Ware has noted that nine of the last 11 people appointed to the Kansas Supreme Court belonged to the same political party as the governor who appointed them. It reminds me of a quote from William “Boss” Tweed, political boss of Tammany Hall, that summarizes our problem accurately and concisely: “I don’t care who does the electing so long as I do the nominating.”

In February the Kansas Senate took a vote on agreeing to amendments to a bill that, if accepted and passed, would implement a system where the governor would appoint judges to the Court of Appeals, and then the Senate would confirm or reject the nominee. This is a system like the United States and many states use. A “Yea” vote was a vote in favor of this system. Here are the votes: Yeas: Abrams, Apple, Bruce, Donovan, Kelsey, Longbine, Love, Lynn, Masterson, Merrick, Olson, Ostmeyer, Petersen, Pilcher-Cook, Pyle, Taddiken, Wagle. Nays: Brungardt, Emler, Faust-Goudeau, Francisco, Haley, Hensley, Holland, Huntington, Kelly, King, Kultala, Marshall, McGinn, Morris, Owens, Reitz, A. Schmidt, V. Schmidt, Schodorf, Teichman, Umbarger, Vratil. Present and Passing: Steineger.

Voters in Kansas ought to ask the “reasonable” Republicans who voted against a democratic method of judicial selection why they defend the self-serving position of a special interest group.

Judicial selection among the statesJudicial selection among the states. Kansas is alone in giving the bar extreme power. From Kansas University School of Law Professor Stephen J. Ware.

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