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Archive for Friday, March 10, 2006

Amendment to require Senate OK for justices fails

March 10, 2006

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— Despite criticism of the Kansas Supreme Court, the idea of requiring Senate confirmation before justices can join the court was shot down Thursday by senators, dealing a serious blow to those wanting to overhaul the judiciary.

Senators voted 22-17 on the proposed constitutional amendment - five votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to send it to the House. When introduced last year, 28 senators signed on as sponsors, but six didn't vote for the measure.

"Obviously, some senators had second thoughts. It appears this is an idea whose time hasn't come," said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, who championed the measure during debate.

He said there was little likelihood of the Senate revisiting the issue anytime soon.

"There would have to be a significant change of heart among several members, and given the margin of the vote that's not likely," said Schmidt, R-Independence.

Many legislators have been upset because the court last year mandated additional funding for public schools, and because justices struck down the death penalty in 2004.

A subsequent order forced lawmakers to spend an additional $143 million during last summer's special session where legislators, particularly conservative Republicans, complained the court overstepped its authority.

The Senate confirmation proposal was introduced a month after the court first ordered the Legislature to meet its constitutional obligation by spending more money on schools.

Since 1958, justices have been selected by what's known as a merit selection system. A nominating commission considers applicants and presents the governor three finalists from which to pick one. Justices then face a statewide retention vote every six years.

The failed proposal would have left that system intact, but added Senate confirmation.

Kansas is among 23 states where merit selection is used. Of those, six also require Senate confirmation and two mandate approval by the House and Senate.

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, initially signed onto the measure. But he voted against it because "it could alter the delicate balance of power" and the process "could degenerate in a partisan fight like we see in the United States Senate."

Sen. Roger Reitz said he made a mistake signing on as a sponsor without fully understanding the plan.

"I want these bodies separate. The Supreme Court should be left alone to do its thing and we do our thing," said Reitz, R-Manhattan.

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