28 of 40 Kansas Senators voted Wednesday to approve two measures allowing reform of the judicial nomination system. It would affect all the state’s highest justices and judges–those on the Kansas Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.
The current system, “does not have the legitimacy for the voters of the state of Kansas that it needs,” according to the bill sponsor, new Senate Vice-president, Jeff King (R-Independence).
The first Senate bill, SCR 1601, allows the public to vote to change the Kansas Constitution method of selecting the state Supreme Court and needs 2/3 approval of both chambers to be put on the 2014 ballot. SCR 1601 would put the selection of the appellate court into the state Constitution.
SCR 1601 mirrors the House measure, HCR 5002, applying to selection for both courts, and which passed favorably out of the House Judiciary committee last week, following extensive testimony over three days.
The Senate also passed a second, companion bill SB 8, creating a seven-member commission that would review the caliber of the Governor’s nominee for use in Senate confirmation.
Kansans for Life is scoring these measures as pro-life; we have long supported judicial selection reform measures that improve transparency and public involvement. In 2006, we scored as pro-life a vote supporting a more modest reform measure allowing Senate confirmation of state Supreme Court nominees. During Senate confirmation, the public can learn of the leanings and past rulings of the nominees, similar to the vetting that happens at the federal level for nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The current method of filling each vacancy for the state’s Supreme and appellate courts is considered secretive and non-democratic. In private deliberations, the judicial nominating committee, composed of five lawyers and four non-lawyers, selects three names from which the governor must choose one. The reform would give the governor free reign for picking a nominee, which the Senate –in open session– would have to vote whether to confirm or not. In the latter case, the process starts anew.
The reform also eliminates the current nominating committee. New Senate Majority Leader, Terry Bruce (R-Hutchinson), described that committee as “distorted by special interest lawyers”. Both Senators King and Bruce, who urged the reform measures, are themselves attorneys by profession; but many attorneys, including the Kansas Bar association, have long fought to keep the nominating committee.
More discussion of the Kansas courts’ pro-abortion bias and testimony about the nominating committee political bias will appear in a follow-up post.