Views from Kansas: Bad law shown for what it is

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

In 2013, Kansas legislators voted to give then-Gov. Sam Brownback sole authority to appoint judges to the Court of Appeals, pending Senate approval.

That came back to bite them this year when Gov. Laura Kelly’s nominee was found to have untenable flaws.

Under the previous law, a nonpartisan nine-member commission would have vetted candidates before ultimately submitting three names from which the governor would choose.

Brownback balked at the practice, insisting he alone should have the privilege of the nomination, in addition to not disclosing the names of potential candidates, another departure from the more public nomination process.

Against their better judgement, the Republican majority acquiesced and changed the law to suit Brownback’s authoritarian nature.

No matter how good-intentioned a governor may be, the current system is flawed exactly because of its private nature and lack of inherent checks and balances in the beginning stages.

Add a stacked Senate, as Brownback had, and the nominee can be ramrodded through. Just look at the case of ultra-conservative Caleb Stegall in 2013.

What’s really scary is that Brownback wanted the state constitution changed to give him the same authority to appoint Supreme Court justices, which members of the House stopped in its tracks in 2016.

Fast forward to this March, when Gov. Kelly nominated Labette County District Judge Jeffry Jack for a position on the Appeals Court only to find that in 2017 the judge had tweeted disparaging remarks about newly elected President Donald Trump. All sides — Republicans and Democrats — agreed the remarks made Judge Jack unfit for the position.

Judges are held to ethical standards that forbid them from compromising the public’s confidence in their ability to be impartial.

In making a mountain out of a molehill, Senate President Susan Wagle is trying to link the judge’s errant behavior as proof of a “display of incompetence” on Gov. Kelly’s part in addition to being “a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Let’s be clear: The minute Gov. Kelly discovered the judge’s tweets from two years ago, she asked to withdraw his nomination.

There was no stonewalling to see if things would pass. There was no effort to make light of his actions.

Instead, Gov. Kelly nominated attorney Sarah Warner, which in a sane world would proceed as normal.

But the 2013 law doesn’t work that way.

It seems legislators didn’t allow for the possibility of a nominee’s withdrawal, forcing the matter to be decided by the Kansas Supreme Court, which on Friday ruled that Judge Jack’s nomination must proceed as if he were the governor’s choice.

So on Tuesday, senators came back for a special session and voted unanimously against Judge Jack, clearing the way for consideration of Warner.

It was only a matter of time before the 2013 law would be exposed for the disaster it is.

Wonder how long it will take to fix it.

— Originally published in The Iola Register.

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