Bench Memos

Re: Governor Brownback’s Stellar Judicial Appointment

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s nomination of Caleb Stegall to the state court of appeals is proceeding with little fanfare. Sure, a few fringe gadflies are very upset, and the Soros-funded lobby group Justice at Stake keeps trying to stoke controversy. But there is no doubt whatsoever that Stegall is on his way to confirmation. And, as his confirmation moves forward, it becomes more and more clear that he has the support of the state’s top lawyers, on the right and the left. As the Topeka Capital-Journal reported in a recent profile piece:

Kansas Court of Appeals nominee Caleb Stegall’s peers delivered a stack of endorsement letters to Gov. Sam Brownback that served as a standing ovation for their superstar law school student, revered intellect, legal scholar and caring parent.

Stegall, nominated to the state’s second-highest court last week by the Republican governor, was described as a person who “cannot be easily pigeonholed into predictable schools of thought because he thinks well and deeply about the important issues of our time.”

“He becomes involved with issues that matter,” continued one-time legal adversary Terrence Campbell, “regardless of the political party that might nominally be associated with those issues.”

The reason Justice at Stake, the League of Women Voters, and other left-leaning supporters of the Missouri Plan won’t let go is that this appointment provides them with yet another opportunity to attack Governor Brownback for repealing the Missouri Plan for court-of-appeals appointments. But, as Kansas City Star columnist Dave Helling explains, the virtue of the new method of selection Brownback has adopted is that it lets the people of Kansas decide what kind of judges they prefer:

No one appears worried about Stegall’s qualifications for the appeals bench, which are many. Instead, the lawyer is — gasp — a conservative, just like Brownback...

Some Democrats want Brownback to release the names of other potential appeals court nominees, presumably because they believe the other picks would be less conservative than Stegall.

Why would they think that? Isn’t it more likely that every name on Brownback’s list would come from the political right?

Here’s an important concept: Elections have consequences. In 2010 and again in 2012, Kansans elected conservative lawmakers and a conservative governor. It’s reasonable to assume they expected, and support, a conservative judiciary, too.

If Kansas Democrats are really worried about the appointment of conservative judges, their remedy is to get more votes. Instead, they’re trying to subvert Brownback’s choice by relying on process, not politics.

Stegall deserves the accolades he is receiving, and more. He will be confirmed with nominal (if any) opposition. I expect him to serve honorably and to make serious improvements to Kansas jurisprudence. My only concern at this point is for Governor Brownback, who must now replace a brilliant member of his staff, just as he sets out to firmly establish a judicial legacy by completely repealing the Missouri Plan for all courts in Kansas.



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