Archive for Thursday, September 2, 2010

Spokesman says Brownback has concerns over Kansas system for selecting judges

GOP candidate and opponent disagree on need for reform

September 2, 2010


— Sam Brownback's spokeswoman said Thursday that the U.S. senator and Republican nominee for Kansas governor questions whether the process for picking new state Supreme Court justices is constitutional.

Brownback's views are in line with a federal lawsuit alleging that the selection process violates voters' rights by allowing attorneys to control who gets appointed to the high court. Attorneys chosen only by fellow attorneys make up a majority of the commission screening applications for Supreme Court vacancies.

The selection process is an important issue for some of Brownback's fellow conservative Republicans, who've been upset in recent years by Supreme Court rulings on abortion and education funding. They argue that the court isn't accountable enough to voters because of how justices are picked.

The GOP nominee doesn't intend to draft a plan for changing the process, spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said, but "He's going to continue to talk with those who are interested in making a change."

Brownback's Democratic opponent, state Sen. Tom Holland, has said he doesn't see the need to make any changes in the selection process. He and others, including some GOP moderates, believe it is insulated from partisan politics.

Holland campaign manager Dana Houle questioned Brownback's judgment on such issues by noting his past support for Phill Kline, an anti-abortion Republican, as a nominee for U.S. attorney for Kansas.

In 2001, Brownback described Kline as an "outstanding" potential appointee, but Kline withdrew and instead ran for Kansas attorney general in 2002, winning narrowly. Kline became a national figure for investigating abortion clinics, but the controversy surrounding his actions led to his defeat in 2006.

Houle said of Brownback: "Now he wants to drastically change the way judicial appointments are made in Kansas without telling anybody specifically what he would do. This raises serious questions about Brownback's true agenda and leaves us to wonder what he's hiding."

Judicial selection is also a compelling issue for conservatives because Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson will fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court before leaving office in January, assuming there's no federal court intervention. Robert Davis retired as chief justice on Aug. 3 and died the next day.

Nine lower-court judges and four attorneys have applied to fill the vacancy. The nine-member Supreme Court Nominating Commission plans to interview them Sept. 27 and 28 and send the names of three finalists to Parkinson.

Five of the nominating commission's nine members are attorneys elected by fellow attorneys.

Parkinson will have 60 days to pick one of the three finalists. If he refuses to choose one of them, the decision will fall to new Chief Justice Lawton Nuss. The Legislature has no role.

Voters decide every six years whether a justice remains on the bench. However, since Kansas switched from the partisan election of justices in 1960, no justice has been removed.

Thirteen states have such a system, with no role for legislators, according to the American Judicature Society. But Kansas is the only state in which attorneys chosen by other attorneys are a majority of the panel screening potential appointees.

Four voters filed the lawsuit challenging the Kansas system. Their lead counsel is James Bopp Jr., a Terre Haute, Ind., attorney who also represents Focus on the Family and the National Right to Life Committee.

Jones-Sontag said the issues in that lawsuit are similar to those in a federal lawsuit that in the 1990s forced Kansas to change how its secretary of agriculture was chosen.

Farm groups used to pick a Board of Agriculture, which then picked the secretary. Now, the governor makes the appointment, subject to Senate confirmation.

Environmentalists attacked the old system, arguing that it stripped many Kansas voters of their right to participate in selecting an official with broad regulatory powers.

But last year, a federal judge in Alaska dismissed a legal challenge on similar grounds to that state's judicial selection process, which is similar to Kansas' system.


situveux1 7 years, 5 months ago

A bunch of lawyers getting together is non-partisan? Right. If Senate confirmation of judges is so aweful then these same people should be strongly opposed to the federal system of judicial appointments.

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 7 years, 5 months ago

They should be elected, as they are in Wichita. Thank you, Lynn

The_Bends 7 years, 5 months ago

Although I would like to support the "governor appoints, senate confirms" process, I question whether it would have a positive result in Kansas. Issues like abortion are likely to dominate the confirmation process and make it difficult, if not impossible, for moderate senators to confirm qualified appellate judges.

If only a handful of hot-button social issues ultimately decide whether a judge is "confirmable," the result would be bad for both businesses and Kansans, i.e., appellate courts full of political ideologues unable to intelligently decide the boring, nuanced legal issues that are at issue in 99% of state court appeals. State appellate courts rarely handle hot-button social issues; these issues are more often decided in the federal court system because they involve claims under the US Constitution.

That said, we need judges who are committed to the rule of law, not the culture war. To emphasize the latter over the former will hurt Kansans and its businesses.

olddognewtrix 7 years, 5 months ago

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Orwell 7 years, 5 months ago

The present system was voted in as a constitutional amendment by people sick of the previous politicization of the appointments. Brownback just wants more power to appoint unqualified suck-ups or fat cats, who will provide no check or balance on possible excesses of the executive branch.

I've been around long enough to know that for every lawyer arguing one side of an issue, there's another lawyer arguing just the opposite. The current system makes sure we have knowledgeable judges who have the integrity not to knuckle under to transitory public pressure – the kind of pressure that's often ginned up by moneyed interests like the Kochs.

TopJayhawk 7 years, 5 months ago

I have a problem with Brownback being our Governor. And I am a conservative. I also think we should make it a habit to elect NEW judges at every election. Don't give 'em enough time to get comfortable. It also lessens the chance that they will have time to develop a lot of the cronies that cause so much problems. Fortunately, if this is a Constitutional Amendment, He and His buddies can't change it.

TopJayhawk 7 years, 5 months ago

Anybody else besides me notice that Ol' Senator Sam has gotten a face-lift? It is too tight, and now between that and the botox, Ol' Sam looks a lot like Bert Reynolds.

kujayhawk7476 7 years, 5 months ago

One-Issue-Brownback strikes again. He will abuse constitutional power just to eliminate abortion when the majority of voters support a woman's right to choose. He must be soundly defeated in November! I'm a republican, but have not voted for him and will not vote for him, ever!

Maddy Griffin 7 years, 5 months ago

Brownback seems to be awfully concerned about non-issues. What kind of promises is he running on? Never mind, doesn't matter, wouldn't vote for him anyway.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 5 months ago

He likely couldn't care less about the selection process, but it's become a hot-button issue for the far right, and Sam never passes up a chance for a little demagoguery.

esteshawk 7 years, 5 months ago

I wonder if he thinks the Kansas Secretary of Agriculture position should be by appointment?

Paul R Getto 7 years, 5 months ago

This is such B.S. Electing judges is a bad idea. Brownback is just doing his usual suck up to the Radical Religious Right who somehow think if we could elect the 'right judges' they would hasten the new christian version of Sharia know the drill: "This is a Christian Nation and we need to return to our roots, etc." Sam thinks he running for governor, but he's really running for the Head Priest of the New American Taliban, Kansas Chapter. Stop it Sam; concentrate on getting the Koch boys what they want.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 5 months ago

Hey Sam what exactly is YOUR plan for new jobs and new industry?

You have yet to put forth any plan of substance therefore it's nothing but rhetoric. Nothing much happened as a result of you being in Washington D.C.

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 5 months ago

Of course Brownback opposes a system of judicial election tat is impartial and shielded from state and national politics?

Under such a system, how would he ever be able to get his extremist ideologue judicial candidates appointed?

The system is not broken, Mr. Brownback. Some conservative he is. Fixing something that is not broken.

Brownback is a right-wing liberal.

verity 7 years, 5 months ago

"we need judges who are committed to the rule of law, not the culture war."

Yes, yes and, again, yes!

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