Topeka — Attempts to change the way appellate judges are selected will be considered during the first week of the 2013 legislative session.
The session starts Monday, and the Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled hearings for Wednesday and Thursday on a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the governor to select justices to the Kansas Supreme Court and judges to the Kansas Court of Appeals, subject to confirmation by the Senate.
A related bill would establish a Kansas Commission on Judicial Qualifications that would assess the qualifications of the governor's selection and issue a report to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
State Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Thursday that debate over the way judges are selected has been going on for years.
"The parties are very ready to be heard," King said.
The House Judiciary Committee will also conduct hearings on judicial selection proposals next week. Chairman Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
The proposals being heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee would give the governor more say in picking appellate judges.
Currently, judges on the Kansas Court of Appeals and justices on the Kansas Supreme Court are chosen by the governor from a list of nominees provided by the Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission. After a judge or justice is appointed, he or she must stand for retention elections.
The Nominating Commission takes applications, interviews applicants, does numerous checks and forwards three names to the governor.
But conservatives have maintained that the Nominating Commission is dominated by lawyers who produce more liberal nominees.
But defenders of the system say it is based on merit and removes much of the politics from the selection process. "The current system was put in place to try to minimize the amount of political influence that goes into the selection of judges, and I think it has worked very, very well," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence.
Changing the way appeals court judges are selected would simply require a change in state law, while changing the way state Supreme Court justices are selected would require a constitutional amendment. But King said he would prefer that a constitutional amendment deal with appeals court judges too.
"The court of appeals is essential and should be recognized just like the Supreme Court," he said.
Amending the Kansas Constitution requires a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate before it can be put before voters statewide for a final decision.