Court challenge

The Kansas House is considering a measure that would drastically change the appointment process for the Kansas Court of Appeals.

February 25, 2011


State legislators who claim there is a problem with the way Kansas selects its top judges are taking aim at the Kansas Court of Appeals.

Changing the selection process for members of the Kansas Supreme Court would require a constitutional amendment, but changing the process for the Court of Appeals can be accomplished by statute. A bill that’s up for final action in the Kansas House today would do just that.

House Bill 2101 would completely change the way judges are chosen for the Court of Appeals. Currently, nominations to fill vacancies on that court go through the Supreme Court Nominating Commission, which forwards three names to the governor, who makes the final selection. Under the new bill, the nominating commission no longer would be a part of the process; appointments would be made directly by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

Those who are promoting changes in how state judges are appointed are selling the idea that the current process is unduly influenced by attorneys in the state. The nine-member board is made up of four non-attorneys appointed by the governor, four attorneys elected by attorneys in each of the state’s four congressional districts, and a chairman elected by a statewide vote of Kansas attorneys.

Members of the commission come from all parts of the state, and four of its members are appointed by the governor. Both the attorneys and non-attorneys on the commission likely represent a variety of political views. There is no evidence that the current system isn’t working.

Putting the court appointments solely in the hands of the governor and the Senate eliminates any citizen involvement in the selection of the judges and actually increases the likelihood that appointments will become more political. It would be much easier for a governor to use the appointments to repay a political debt, perhaps even appointing someone with only marginal qualifications to serve. Many well-qualified potential candidates might shy away from accepting a nomination because of the potential damage to their professional reputations if their appointment becomes a political football between the governor and members of the Senate.

The current merit selection process for both the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals has served Kansas well. It has ensured that the courts are filled with well-qualified members who represent a broad spectrum of the state and are as removed as possible from political influences.

The legislation to change the appointment process for the Court of Appeals probably would be a precursor to a push for a constitutional amendment that would do the same for the Kansas Supreme Court. It’s a change that wouldn’t benefit either court — or the people of Kansas.


Paul R Getto 7 years, 3 months ago

Good points, Mr. Simons. This, like the 'voter fraud' bill, is another attempt to fix a problem that does not exist. Ideology should not overturn a system that has served Kansans well. Leave it alone!

cato_the_elder 7 years, 3 months ago

Excellent editorial. The current system works well, and there's no need to change it.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 3 months ago

The current protections against voter fraud are about 99.99% effective, too. Does that mean you oppose the requirement of a voter ID?

Richard Heckler 7 years, 3 months ago

The Brownback nazi thinkers are taking over our system.

Gov Brownback where are the new jobs and industry that generate new economic growth?

Stop wasting our time and tax dollars!!!

Scott Drummond 7 years, 2 months ago

Brownshirtback was sworn in January 10. Today is February 27. In the reality based world we are beginning the 8th week of his reign.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 3 months ago

Another Godwin flag for the man who is killing the planet with internal combustion lawn mowers. We need to ban those poison-spewing hell-spawn devices at once! Not doing that would be dumb and irresponsible!!!!!!!!!

Richard Heckler 7 years, 3 months ago

BTW Mr Simon thanks for this comment. Good Job!

billbodiggens 7 years, 3 months ago

To the contrary, the selection process has not done well. The Appellate Court of Kansas is in truth the appellate of court of northeast Kansas, and more specifically, the appellate court of Shawnee and Johnson County. The Appellate Court of Kansas is populated with judges that have had little if anything thing to do with anything outside the metro areas of Topeka, Lawrence, Kansas City . Such a concentration of judges from only one small part of the state does not promote diversity of opinion and ideas and yet they sit in judgement of the entire state. The bad thing, however, is that it is the same political forces which accomplished this mess through the back door and out of sight of the public who now want to accomplish it through the front door to the extreme detriment of the state. Things will not change. They can only be worse.

gudpoynt 7 years, 3 months ago

KS Court of Appeals judges, listed by county (with population), then by city.

Johnson County (pop 516,731): Fairway - Steve Leben Lenexa - Christel E. Marquardt Olathe - G. Joseph Pierron Olathe - Patrick D. McAnany Olathe - G. Gordon Atcheson Overland Park - Michael B. Buser

Leavenworth County (pop 73,628) Leavenworth - Henry W. Green, Jr.

Miami County (pop 30,900) Paola - Stephen D. Hill

Sedgwick County (pop 470,895) Wichita - Tom Malone Wichita - Richard D. Greene

Wyandotte County (pop 155,509) Kansas City - Melissa Taylor Standridge

Total Pop. of Johnson, Leavenworth, Miami, Sedgwick, and Wyandotte counties: ~ 1,250,000

Total Pop. of KS: ~ 2,800,000

So, the entire Appellate bench is comprised of judges from counties that total less than half of the population of KS. This appears to be rather lopsided, and I think there's an argument there.

However, perhaps a better question would be to find the density of possible candidates per county. In other words, instead of going by county population, go by the number of qualified lawyers per county. For instance, if there are 10 times as many qualified lawyers living in Overland Park than in, say, Goodland, then it stands to reason that a candidate is about 10 times more likely to be nominated from OP than from Goodland, right?

I don't have the numbers on lawyer density per county.

Regardless, if misrepresentation is the concern, then I don't see how eliminating the role of the nominating commission would grant better representation. The nominating commission is comprised of a more representative body than the current Appellate bench. How would removing their role, and putting more power in the hands of fewer, lead to better representation?

Laura Wilson 7 years, 3 months ago

Wow, another editorial I agree with, two this week I think!

It's good that attorneys have a say in who sits on the bench. They're the ones who have to work with the judges and I know attorneys would much rather have a judge who knows what they're doing and has been a practicing attorney, than just some political appointment.

true_patriot 7 years, 3 months ago

Another bold move to consolidate power at any cost, no matter what harm comes to Kansas or our democratic process.

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