Bench Memos

Kansas Senate Overwhelmingly Supports Judicial Selection Reform

Great news out of Kansas. The Kansas senate overwhelmingly passed judicial selection reforms on Wednesday. The constitutional amendment, required for the Kansas supreme court reforms, passed with a 28-12 vote, while the Senate Bill 8, required for the Kansas Court of Appeals reforms, passed with a 29–11 vote, with one abstention. The Capital Journal has more:

Under the Senate’s approach, the governor could freely select the judicial appointee. A new commission would submit to the Senate a report on the governor’s choice. The Senate Judiciary Committee would conduct hearings and the full Senate would conduct the confirmation vote. Retention elections for these judges and justices would remain in Kansas law.

“The current system does not have the legitimacy for the voters of the state of Kansas that it needs to,” said Sen. Jeff King, an Independence Republican who championed the reform during Senate debate.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, said the existing selection system had been distorted by special-interest lawyers who control the nominating commission.

“Under current law,” Bruce said, “the selection process is both secretive and undemocratic. Allowing the people of Kansas a greater voice by taking the power to nominate away from a select group of lawyers will make our third branch of government more inclusive and transparent.”

The constitutional amendment targeting the state supreme court must still pass the Kansas House by a 2/3 majority, and a handful of liberal-leaning Republicans are positioning themselves to obstruct it. Apparently they failed to learn anything from Tim Owens and other liberal-leaning Republican senators who were recently defeated in primaries because of their positions on issues like judicial-selection reform. The legislation targeting the court of appeals, on the other hand, requires a simple majority and I would not be surprised to see that legislation pass without much trouble.

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

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