Bench Memos

All Eyes on Kansas

In late February, the Kansas House of Representatives, with the strong support of Gov. Sam Brownback, approved legislation that would abolish the state’s Missouri Plan for selecting court-of-appeals judges and replace it with a system mirroring the federal model. As the Wall Street Journal editors put it in their excellent editorial on the subject:

Wichita trial lawyers may soon feel like they’re not in Kansas anymore. Late last week, the Kansas state House of Representatives passed a law that would change the way the state selects its appeals court judges, scaling back a system that has given disproportionate power to lawyers and pushed state courts to the left.

Unfortunately, I am reliably informed that the liberal Republican chair of the state senate Judiciary Committee, Tim Owens, is obstructing the reform legislation, refusing to even hold a hearing. I hadn’t heard of Owens until now, and I doubt very many people have, but apparently this is not the first time he has used his power to thwart the goals of his colleagues.

Owens also played a key role in blocking the Kansas Health Care Freedom Act, one of many state efforts to push back on Obamacare. The Kansas version had been endorsed by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity, Concerned Women of America, the Kansas Policy Institute, the Kansas Family Policy Council, NFIB, ALEC, and a number of high-profile public officials who have also supported judicial-selection reform, including Governor Brownback and Rep. Tim Huelskamp.

If Owens wants to make policy for the entire state of Kansas, he should run for statewide office. Until then, he should at least hold a hearing and allow a vote on this judicial-selection-reform bill that has the support of the state’s governor and house of representatives.

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