Topeka — The issue of whether to change the way top state judges are selected will come up again in the 2010 legislative session.
“Our process in Kansas is needlessly closed and unaccountable,” said state Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, who said he plans to push for changes when the Legislature convenes in January.
Kinzer said Kansas Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges should be appointed by the governor with state Senate confirmation to life terms without retention elections. This proposal would mirror the system of selecting federal judges.
“The federal system is the best,” Kinzer said.
Under the current system, the governor selects Kansas Supreme Court justices and appellate judges after receiving three nominees for each position from the Supreme Court Nominating Commission. The state Senate is not involved. Each of those selected for those courts face up or down retention elections.
Critics of the current system have complained about the makeup of the nine-member Supreme Court Nominating Commission. Five members are attorneys selected by other attorneys. Four are non-attorneys appointed by the governor.
Kansas University School of Law Professor Stephen Ware says the attorney dominance on the commission gives a narrow interest group too much power. And he has complained that the nominating process is too insular.
But proponents of the current system say it protects the judiciary from political influence. And they note there is little public concern over this selection.
At a recent legislative forum, Thomas Wright, president of the Kansas Bar Association, asked Kinzer if the goal was to make it more likely that people with a socially conservative viewpoint will be added to the court.
Kinzer dismissed the idea that his proposal would produce a more conservative judiciary, saying the federal judiciary includes diverse viewpoints.