In a surprise online release Friday, the Kansas Nominating Commission that screens applicants for the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals said the public will be able to attend candidate interviews, beginning Feb. 17.
The Commission’s Chair said opening the interviews is designed to instill further confidence so “Kansans now can see for themselves how well the nonpartisan merit selection process works.” However, it is really just a tiny step forward, since the Commission
- reserved the right to adjourn to executive session during the interviews;
- doesn’t promise public access to the commission discussion or vote tallies;
- doesn’t have citizen input on questions posed.
A lawsuit (KFL post here) filed earlier this year in federal court in Wichita challenged the constitutionality of the state’s closed judicial nominating process, in which lawyers–not citizens– pick five of the nine nominating commission members who screen judicial candidates.
TheKansasReporternoted that the Court spokesman claimed, “This change has nothing to do with that Wichita suit…the nominating commission has been talking on and off about this idea for many years, and what started it again this time is Missouri’s decision earlier this year to open their interviews to the public too.”
Not very convincing spin! Missouri only opened their interviews because they are facing another multi-million dollar ballot initiative campaign to elect judges, as well as several proposed bills aimed at restructuring their nominating commission.
But the Kansas judicial elite cannot bring themselves to admit they are responding to citizen dissatisfaction with a closed system of lawyer-controlled appointments of the top judges.
The political landscape poses a threat — a new governor and more conservative lawmakers sympathetic to:
- the Constitutional challenge of the Wichita lawsuit (now on appeal);
- state legislation that keeps resurfacing to have the Kansas Senate confirm applicants for the state Supreme Court;
- the “Fire Beier” campaign by Kansans for Life that resulted in a public confidence drop of 14-20% in retention rates for 4 state justices.
This announced defensive move ‘toward transparency’ resembles the Court’s similar defensive creation of the Kansas Commission on Judicial Performance, providing flawed evaluations for judges up for retention.
The public is not satisfied.