Archive for Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Senate approves changes in selection of judges

January 30, 2013


— A proposal to give the governor and legislators more power over appointments to Kansas’ appellate courts cleared the state Senate on Wednesday, demonstrating the increased clout of conservative Republicans.

The vote was 28-12 on a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution, one vote more than the two-thirds majority needed for passage. The measure goes next to the House, but it’s not clear that backers can find enough votes to get the proposal on the ballot for the August 2014 primary election.

Under the measure, the governor would appoint judges to the Kansas Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court, subject to Senate confirmation. The proposal would scrap an attorney-led commission that screens applicants and nominates three finalists for each vacancy. The current system requires the governor to appoint one of the nominees, with no role for legislators.

Conservative Republicans have pushed to overhaul the system for almost a decade, frustrated with state court decisions mandating increases in state spending on public schools. Also, abortion opponents view the state’s courts as too liberal, and conservative GOP Gov. Sam Brownback is advocating change.

But supporters insisted Wednesday that the proposal is not about remaking the appellate courts but opening up the selection process and giving Kansans more confidence in it.

“The current system does not have the legitimacy for the voters of the state of Kansas that it needs to,” said Senate Vice President Jeff King, an Independence Republican who also serves as the chamber’s Judiciary Committee chairman.

In previous years, Democrats and the Senate’s then-moderate Republican leaders blocked proposals for changing the judicial selection process. But in last year’s elections, conservatives ousted GOP moderates and emerged with 27 seats for an overall 32-8 Republican majority. All of the conservative members voted for the measure Wednesday and were joined by moderate GOP Sen. Jeff Longbine of Emporia.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said the measure is an attempt by Brownback’s allies to master the judiciary now that they control the Legislature and the executive branch. He said the measure amounts to “putting politics back into the process.”

After appellate court judges are appointed, voters decide whether they stay on the bench — once every four years for the Court of Appeals and once every six years for the Supreme Court. Voters have never removed one.

“We have a good system that’s working well,” said Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat. “Why are we doing this?”

Opponents of the current system note that five of the nine members of the judicial nominating commission are attorneys elected by other attorneys, while the other four are appointed by the governor. They argue the system favors centrist or left-of-center candidates with strong ties to the establishment, particularly the Kansas Bar Association.

In the past, the system also has been criticized for favoring urban candidates over rural ones, providing too few finalists from western Kansas or advancing too few minority applicants.

“It’s absolutely undemocratic and a secretive process that needs to be changed,” said freshman Sen. Greg Smith, a conservative Overland Park Republican.

The Bar Association lobbied against “radical” change in a memo before Wednesday’s debate. The association has presented an alternative to expand the nominating commission so it would have 15 members, 11 appointed by the governor and legislative leaders.

Meanwhile, the House has its own proposal mirroring the Senate measure, except it would put the proposed amendment on the November 2014 general election ballot, when voter turnout would be higher.

Conservative Republicans also control the House; the GOP has an overall majority of 92-33, and supporters need 84 votes for a two-thirds majority. But most or all of the Democrats are expected to vote against the proposal, and at least a dozen House members are moderate Republicans. House GOP leaders said Wednesday that they haven’t counted votes.


Bob Forer 1 year, 2 months ago

I don't know what is worse. The conservatives trying to take control of our justice or the lies they tell--a need to open up the selection process--in support of their transparent politicking.


Liberty275 1 year, 2 months ago

I''ve only been in Kansas a decade and a half, so I'm a little lost here. I didn't realize Kansas used such a different system than the federal Gov to choose judges, Hopefully one of you old timers can explain why you prefer the current system in Kansas over what looks to be a clone of the federal system. I understand heritage, and if that is the reason, ok. I'm a state's rights proponent.

It seems to me however the left in Kansas believe they will continue to lose or not gain any legislative seats which will shift the judicial to the right under the more democratic system. Did you vote for any of the guys that get to pick potential judges? I don't remember seeing that on the ballot.

The current system has a break in the democratic chain. In general that isn't good, bur if it is a tradition, I won't argue with it.


july241983 1 year, 2 months ago

“The current system does not have the legitimacy for the voters of the state of Kansas that it needs to,” said Senate Vice President Jeff King, an Independence Republican who also serves as the chamber’s Judiciary Committee chairman.

And yet the Senator opposed an amendment to SCR 1601 that would have made sure that any vote by the people of Kansas on this constitutional amendment would be in a general election. As written, the constitutional amendment would be voted on by Kansans in the August 2014 primary election. The McGinn amendment, which King opposed, would have changed the date of the vote to the November, 2014 general election.

King's reasoning for opposing the amendment - we can't wait another three months. Of course, he admitted the current system has been in place since the 1950's with not so much as one noticeable problem. But we can't wait 3 months to put it to the voters in a general election.

As was pointed out during the discussion of the McGinn amendment, the voter turnout for general elections is much higher than for primaries. For example, the November 2012 turnout in Kansas was 66.8 percent, while the August 2012 turnout was 23.2 percent. Even after hearing these numbers, Senator King continued to oppose the amendment and still maintained that his proposal supported "the legitimacy for the voters of the state of Kansas." I'm sorry if I'm not convinced, Senator.


toe 1 year, 2 months ago

It took some time, but finally worthwhile improvements to Kansas.


Thinking_Out_Loud 1 year, 2 months ago

Senator Haley is correct. The current system works well and ensures well-qualified candidates are advanced to the Governor for appointment. My opinion is that this move somewhat unbalances the balance of power between the three branches. The people of this state already have input: every time a judge stands for retention. If the Legislature becomes involved in appointment, it gives the people (through their representatives in the Legislature) power in selecting judges. To restore balance, any change in this law that inserts the Legislature at the selection stage must be offset by eliminating the retention vote. If the Legislature gets to approve whom the Governor wants to hire, eliminating the retention vote will allow for independence of the judiciary. Or else, leave the system as it currently exists alone.


autie 1 year, 2 months ago

Experienced jurist vetting experienced jurist for Judicial positions, instead of party hacks being appointed by party hacks...what is broke now? Is the AFP and Kansas chamber not satisfied yet? We are working towards the best government money can buy and we're almost there.


kansanbygrace 1 year, 2 months ago

And, on the side of this, the term "conservative" has now been kidnapped and sequestered by the neo-liberal (then labeled neo-conservative) dreamers, adherents to the mythology of Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys economists. Examples of their efforts are Argentina, now in recovery from their fifth bankruptcy, and Chile, who are now thriving only because they nationalized substantial tin, nickel and copper mines enabling the nation to collateralize their economy.

Sadly, Kansas has no more income from our natural resources, such as that income for the states of Texas and Alaska from the sale of their oil, because of the removal of severance taxes a couple of decades back.

No, these guys want a figurehead in the statehouse to dictate to the state the bidding of a handful of characters who inherited their influence, while not inheriting the intelligence and attitude of constructiveness that built that influence.


gccs14r 1 year, 2 months ago

If this passes, I anticipate massive campaigning against all the "wrong" judges to create vacancies for Brownback to fill. Make sure you vote to retain all of them.

So now any time there's a Democrat governor, we'll have years-long confirmation fights in the Senate and seats will go unfilled, just like what happens at the Federal level. They won't mention that on the ballot, though.


hiphopsux 1 year, 2 months ago

Anyone who isn't ifuriated by this needs to take a step back and look at their own skewed political beliefs. Regardless of your affiliation this is not what our forefathers had in mind when it came to a three-tiered system. This is becoming much more like what Iran currently has in place.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 2 months ago

Brownback's law-- If it doesn't need fixing, break it.


oldexbeat 1 year, 2 months ago

They can't write good law, nor read well -- so lowering the bar for judges is their answer. GOP Big Government Tea Party takes all power. All power to the Koch Brothers LLC. Koch Suckers united -- aka Kansas legislature. Never let one of these power hungry GOP s talk about smaller government. They mean smaller for the citizens, not their Party. All Power to the Party, says Brownback.


JackMcKee 1 year, 2 months ago

Also, never thought I'd see the day when the House and a general vote would be all that stands between extremists in the Senate and their radical agenda.


myavaka 1 year, 2 months ago

I find it interesting that Brownback and his supporters are bothered by, "centrist" judges. They assume any view that isn't, "Radical Right Wing" is, "Flaming Liberal" views. By definition, being in the center means you look at both sides of an issue and then make a decision. That's what judges should do.


Cant_have_it_both_ways 1 year, 2 months ago

I guess its ok if Obama does the same thing?


JackMcKee 1 year, 2 months ago

Are people in western Kansas really this gullible?


skull 1 year, 2 months ago

Defenders of the constitution...unless of course it gets in the way and needs to be changed.


Mike1949 1 year, 2 months ago

This is about control! Brownback & his supporters want to stack the deck, tilt the arm of justice against freedom, what is right and what is wrong. We are one step closer to dictatorship, a very sad day for freedom and justice!


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