Judicial selection process criticized

? A conservative legal group, Republican pollster and Kansas University law professor have teamed up to criticize the way Kansas Supreme Court justices are selected.

Stephen Ware, KU professor, said the selection process was too insular and dominated by lawyers.

“It looks to me like a good-old-boys club,” Ware said earlier this week during a teleconference set up by the Federalist Society. Ware was joined by Kellyanne Conway, chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based The Polling Co.

But state Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, speaking on behalf of the Kansas Bar Association, said the judicial selection process allowed the Kansas Supreme Court to maintain its independence from politics.

“It’s not practicing attorneys bringing these concerns, but people who represent national interest groups that want to have an influence on the judicial system that fits their political views,” Davis said.

Justices on the seven-member court are appointed by the governor from a list of three candidates submitted by the Supreme Court Nominating Commission.

In recent years, some Kansas legislators, angered over state Supreme Court decisions, have tried to change the way justices are selected. The proposals haven’t gone far.

On Thursday, Ware was critical of the makeup of the Supreme Court Nominating Commission, which includes nine members, five of whom are appointed by the Kansas Bar Association.

No other state in the nation gives this much power to its bar association over the nominating process, Ware said.

And he criticized the commission’s winnowing process, which is done in private.

Ware recommended giving the Legislature a bigger say in the process.

One way would be to have the governor nominate a candidate and then subject that candidate to confirmation of the state Senate – similar to the process used by the federal government in selecting federal judges.

But Davis said that proposal would open the process to more politics.

“We have seen how the Supreme Court nominations on the federal level have gone. That process has gotten out of hand,” Davis said.

Ware’s study was published by the Federalist Society, a group that embraces conservative and libertarian legal views. The group said it takes no position on Ware’s research but provides it to educate citizens.

The Federalist Society also released a poll that shows most Kansans would prefer to have more input on who becomes a member of the Kansas Supreme Court.

The poll showed that 58 percent of Kansans agreed that a majority of the nominating commission should be appointed by elected officials. The poll also found that 85 percent of Kansans were unaware that the Kansas Bar Association selects a majority on the nominating commission.