Bench Memos

Kansas Judicial-selection Reform Picking Up Steam

The effort to reform Kansas’s method of judicial selection received a big boost this week when Governor Sam Brownback made an unequivocal call for reform part of his state-of-the-state address. According to Brownback, the state constitution should be amended to provide for direct election of judges, or something like the federal method:  

Kansans expect and are entitled to a government that is not beholden to any special interest group.  

The guiding principle of our American democracy must be that every citizen stands equal before the law, be they governor or farmer, lawyer or teacher.  Unfortunately, our current system of selecting our appellate judges fails the democratic test.

Rather than giving an equal voice to all Kansans in the selection of our judges, Kansas is the only state that allows a special interest group to control the process of choosing who will be our appellate judges. That is not as it should be. Here, the people rule.

Now I didn’t realize this but Kansas use to elect our state Supreme Court.  I would be supportive of returning to that system or going to the federal model of judicial selection. Either passes the democracy test that the current system fails.

Legislative leaders picked up on that theme a few days later with legislative hearings, and my sources in Kansas tell me that the reformers have many reasons to be optimistic about their odds of success.  

Meanwhile, the liberal Soros-funded organization Justice at Stake released a poll yesterday purporting to show that the majority of Kansans would rather keep their current judicial-selection system — a version of the Missouri Plan — than adopt an alternative, such as the federal method of selection.  

The relevant question read (emphasis mine):       

Some people have proposed amending the state Constitution to change the way judges are selected here in Kansas.  Under the proposal, judges would be chosen by the Governor without first being recommended by a panel, and then confirmed by the state Senate.  They would still face periodic yes/no retention elections from the voters. Would you favor or oppose amending the Constitution to switch from merit selection to the proposed new way of selecting judges?

Aside from the question’s biased wording, the poll failed to inform respondents that the majority of the “panel” that nominates judges is selected by the state barand that it has “virtually given the state bar the authority to elect those who choose the justices.” I don’t need a poll to tell me that Kansans are common-sense people who would welcome the opportunity to reduce the role of lawyers in the selection of the state’s judges.

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

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