TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback isn’t releasing the names of applicants for a new position on the Kansas Court of Appeals, even though the names of all candidates for the court and the state Supreme Court have been disclosed for more than 30 years.
The Legislature added a seat to the state’s second-highest court as of July 1, and changed the process for selecting its judges. Court of Appeals members will now be appointed by the governor, subject to state Senate confirmation, with no role for the nine-member judicial nominating commission.
The process for selecting Supreme Court justices is spelled out in the Kansas Constitution, and it won’t change. The nominating commission will continue to screen applicants and name three finalists. The governor is required to pick one of them, with no role for legislators.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that the decision by the Republican governor is being criticized by Democratic legislative leaders and the chairwoman of the statewide commission that previously screened applicants for the Court of Appeals. Supporters of the new selection process for Court of Appeals judges say it’s more accountable to the public and prevents attorneys — who elect a majority of the nominating commission — from dominating the process.
Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said the governor is treating Court of Appeals appointments as he does appointments to his Cabinet or state boards and commissions. With non-judicial appointments, recent governors have not disclosed a list of everyone they’re considering.
Hawley said Kansans can weigh in on the judicial selection with senators after Brownback announces his pick. The governor’s office would say only that it had received “a number of applications” for the Court of Appeals seat.
“We will not be releasing the names of the applicants,” she said.
The nominating commission has released the names of Supreme Court and Court of Appeals applicants since 1981, and it now schedules public interviews with the candidates, though its deliberations are closed.
Commission Chairwoman Anne Burke, an Overland Park attorney, said Brownback’s office should let Kansas residents know who’s under consideration for judicial appointments. She called his decision not to release names “appalling and terrible.”
“Now, there is absolutely zero public input,” she said.
Brownback and his allies also pushed this year to alter the selection process for Supreme Court justices. The Senate adopted a proposed constitutional change to have the governor appoint and the Senate confirm justices and Court of Appeals judges, but supporters couldn’t get enough votes in the House, where a two-thirds majority was needed for the proposal to get on the ballot.
Supporters of the current system contend that it minimizes the politics involved in selecting appellate court judges and focuses on their legal experiences and other qualifications.