Bench Memos

Governor Brownback Signs Judicial-Selection Reform

Wonderful news out of Kansas today! Governor Sam Brownback today signed legislation to abandon the Missouri Plan for court of appeals appointments. Instead, those judges will be nominated by the governor and confirmed by the state senate. From Governor Brownback’s press release:

“The guiding principle of our American democracy must be that every citizen stands equal before the law, with an equal voice in this long running American experiment in self-government,” Gov. Brownback said. “Kansans expect and are entitled to a government that is not beholden to any special interest group. Unfortunately in Kansas, our current system of selecting our appellate judges fails the democracy test.”

Brownback continued, “Rather than providing an equal voice to all Kansans in the selection of our Appeals and Supreme Court judges, Kansas is the only state in the union that allows a special interest group – to control the process of choosing who will be judges for the rest of us.”

Currently, Appeals Court judges are nominated by the Supreme Court Nominating Commission which is made five members elected by the Kansas Bar, and four members appointed by the governor.

HB 2019 allows the governor to appoint a qualified person to fill any vacancy of the Appeals Court who is subject to approval by the Kansas Senate. Known as the federal process, this procedure is similar to how justices for the United States Supreme Court are appointed.

“This is not about controlling judges. Judicial independence is vital and necessary for fair and just rulings from our courts. But judicial independence must rest firmly on the consent of the people. Public confidence is the best and only hedge around the independent judgments of our courts,” Brownback said.

With this legislation, the state of Kansas officially ends the state bar’s monopoly on the selection of court of appeals judges. It is an enormous step forward in that state, and a significant milestone in the national debate over methods of judicial selection.

Congratulations to Governor Brownback, Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, House Speaker Ray Merrick, House Judiciary Chair Lance Kinzer, one of the state’s most tireless advocates for reform, and all legislators who supported this reform measure. We look forward to congratulating them once again when the same step is taken for state supreme court appointments.

Carrie Severino — Carrie Severino is chief counsel and policy director to the Judicial Crisis Network.

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