Topeka — Gov. Sam Brownback today announced he will not disclose the names of those applying for a position on the Kansas Court of Appeals.
“In checking with those who have already expressed interest in applying, there is a strong preference for confidentiality which we will respect," Brownback said in a statement released by his office.
“It is clear that disclosing the names of potential nominees would hurt applicant pools for future selections and this is why the American Bar Association recommends this method of selection and why the Federal judicial selection process follows this same path," he said.
On Tuesday, Brownback's spokeswoman said the governor would disclose the names because she said keeping them secret had become a distraction. But then later Tuesday, the office retracted that statement.
By not disclosing the names of those applying for an appellate court position, Brownback breaks with more than 30 years of practice in Kansas.
A new law allows the governor to make appointments to the Kansas Court of Appeals with Senate confirmation.
Previously, a statewide judicial nominating commission screened applicants and submitted the names of possible nominees to the governor. That commission had released the names of appellate court applicants since 1981 and in recent years had opened its interviews with applicants to the public.
Brownback and other conservative Republicans pushed for the change in the selection process because they said the judicial nominating commission was dominated by a small group of attorneys. Five of the commission's nine members are attorneys elected by other attorneys.
Brownback's office had argued earlier that public accountability of his nominee would occur when the Senate holds an open hearing on the appointee.
A number of groups, however, said Brownback was making the selection process more closed to the public after he and supporters of changing the selection method had complained that the former process was too secretive.
The League of Women Voters filed a request under the Kansas Open Records Act to get the names of those applying for the court seat, but Brownback's office rejected the request, saying the documents requested were not subject to the Open Records law.
Critics of Brownback's new policy said it represented a broken promise.
"When he ran for governor, Sam Brownback proclaimed that 'accountability begins with transparency,' and promised to provide that in his Road Map for Kansas," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence. "Now, as governor, he promotes and defends a policy of government behind closed doors. What is Gov. Brownback hiding? His decision to end 30 years of government transparency is a broken promise that violates our Kansas values of open, honest government," Davis said.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said he found it "ironic" that Brownback agrees with the selection process supported by the American Bar Association and the federal model of selecting judges, but not the Kansas Bar Association, which opposed the change in the law.
Hensley added, "I don't think the federal system works all that well. It has become extremely political and produced a backlog of judgeships.
"Our system had worked very well over the years. It's the old adage, `If it ain't broke don't fix it.' "
Brownback will take applications for the seat on the Kansas Court of Appeals until July 31. He has until Aug. 29 to nominate a new judge. Then the Senate will have 20 days to act on the nomination after the Legislature convenes in January, or the appointment will be considered confirmed.
Conservatives, such as Brownback have been pushing to change the selection process for both the Court of Appeals and the Kansas Supreme Court. But a change to how Supreme Court justices are picked would require two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate and a statewide vote.
So far, Brownback and his allies have been unable to muster two-thirds support in the Legislature.