Archive for Thursday, August 12, 2010

Judicial politics

Kansans adopted the state’s current judicial nomination system to shield the process from politics and cronyism — and the system is working just fine.

August 12, 2010


The issue of changing the way Kansas Supreme Court justices are selected again is being raised, along with a number of questionable arguments in favor of fixing a problem that doesn’t exist.

One of the most interesting recent arguments was made by state Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, who reportedly told a Wichita newspaper that a system in which justices are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Kansas Senate would shield the selection process from pure politics and cronyism.

Kinzer, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has been pushing for some time to change the current system in which the governor chooses a justice from among three nominees forwarded to him or her by a nine-member nominating commission. Although no one has demonstrated that there is a problem with that system, Kinzer and others favor a system similar to the process used to appoint U.S. Supreme Court justices.

However, the contention that such a system removes politics or cronyism from the process is nonsensical. In fact, it provides far greater opportunities for political maneuvering or paybacks than the state’s current system. Without a nominating commission, the governor would have free rein to pick a nominee from among his or her “cronies,” and if the governor’s party also had control of the Kansas Senate, in all likelihood, that person would be confirmed, whether or not he or she was qualified to serve.

In fact, the state’s current appointment process was put in place by constitutional amendment in 1958 by voters outraged by a blatant bit of political cronyism. In 1956, Gov. Fred Hall was defeated in the Republican primary, and the winner of that primary subsequently was defeated by Democrat George Docking. The chief justice at the time was Bill Smith, a big supporter of Hall. Smith was seriously ill and, rather than allow Docking to name his replacement, he teamed up with Hall and Lt. Gov. John McCuish to implement a maneuver that became known as the “triple play.”

On Dec. 31, 1956, Smith resigned. Three days later, Hall resigned. It then was up to the new governor, McCuish, to fill the vacancy left by Smith’s resignation — without any input from a nominating commission. He appointed Hall.

Kansans know politics and cronyism when they see it, and they approved the current judicial appointment system to get rid of it. The system is working; we shouldn’t take a step backward.


sad_lawrencian 7 years, 10 months ago

This editorial is of course coming from the major newspaper in a town in which the people don't elect their own mayor. Yes I suppose the governor appointing his or her own Supreme Court justices, like the President of the United States does, would be a bad thing, just like how directly electing the mayor of Lawrence would be a bad thing. Never a good idea to do it the way everyone else does. Hey I'll throw three-year high schools into the mix and elementary schools including the sixth grade just for good measure. Welcome to Backwards, USA.

olddognewtrix 7 years, 10 months ago

Sad-lawrencian disregards the fact that Lawrence , like a number of other progressive citygovernments in Kansas, long ago opted for the city manager/city commission form of local government where the Mayor is merely a figurehead chairman selected byt the commission from its number. It allows for professional sustainable non-partisan governance . This form of governace was 1st developed in Kansas City as a way of removing partisan corruption and was soon admired by many Kansas towns, In fact, the Univ. of kanas soon developed the only City Mananger School in its curriculum and is admired thruought the academic world.SAd Lawrencian must not be a student of local governance.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 10 months ago

Outstanding comment - right on in every way, especially historically.

Paul R Getto 7 years, 10 months ago

The Republicans have several crusades about solving problems that don't exist. This is one of them; Mr. Kobach's search for illegal immigrant voters affecting elections is another. Settle down, folks. This time the editor is right.

Scott Drummond 7 years, 10 months ago

Who, but a fool, would point to a system such as that in which someone like Harriet Miers could be nominated for the Supreme Court?

Repubs hate the courts and our system of govenrment that they are meant to protect and never miss an opportunity to undermine their effectiveness. Just as with the free press and free public education this is an attempt to destroy under the guise of "reform." Nauseating.

billbodiggens 7 years, 10 months ago

Talked with a lawyer friend the other day. The current appellate court, supremes and appeals, with the exception on only about one person is made up exclusively of people who have never lived or worked as an adult outside of the northeast corner of Kansas. And, the current process is rife with politics and cronyism, it is just all back room. Every one of those now in the appellate courts of Kansas have to have had the seal of approval of the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association who now operates under some other name such as the Kansas Justice League, or something like that. There are ways to address the problem of politics and cronyism, but sending the issue to the senate, the inner temple of cronyism and politics, to avoid politics and cronyism is absolutely absurd.

Orwell 7 years, 10 months ago

The only truthful claim in your post is the last sentence – well, I guess we can also take your word for the first sentence.

In fact, the claims made by your "lawyer friend" only prove that lawyers as a group have an extremely broad range of opinions and perspectives.

voevoda 7 years, 10 months ago

The qualifications to be a good judge are substantial, and I'd rather have a panel of highly-qualified people nominating them. We want doctors to decide who gets to be a doctor, and professors to decide who gets to be a professor (or a dean). If the governor and state legislature were to choose judges, we'd get individuals who pander to the wishes of the party (or parties) in power, with little regard for the chief qualifications: impartiality and knowledge of the law.

igby 7 years, 10 months ago

That's exactly what we have now, so regardless of any system, political and personal biases prevail.

igby 7 years, 10 months ago

So then, why does so much trash get on the bench?

Because they're all scumbag liberal criminal lawyers or some political activist that never really practiced law but some pos liberal gov. appointed them because their party wanted them on the bench.

Six Martin Shall I name the rest of them?

igby 7 years, 10 months ago

The new system that is managed by a private company in the state of Colorado, is nothing more that a smoke screen or shield of protection for the truth to be hidden from the public and voters.

They pick people to make a report on a judge. But the judge is in another area that the person has never seen before of even knows what county the judge is in. How does one truthfully report on something that they no nothing about concerning the judge that they were given.

So, that's how it works, all complaints are hidden or diverted into miss matched people in different areas that don't know who or where the judge is or anything about the judge. So the person just checks off in a passive choices checking process low impact responses which give results that produce no poor effects or reports on any judge.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 10 months ago

The current system works as well as any such system can. No system can ensure that all nominees are equally qualified or are always unquestionably the best candidates. What Kinzer advocates, however, would ensure the re-politicization of the process very close to what we had when we elected our appellate judges, which most knowledgeable Kansans oppose.

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