In Kansas, there are three levels of judges – the District Courts, the Kansas Court of Appeals, and the Kansas Supreme Court. Measures being debated today deal with the latter two – the appellate level courts --with the Kansas Supreme Court being part of our Kansas Constitution, thus requiring a 2/3 majority of both houses and a vote of the people to change it.
The Kansas model for judicial selection is the only one of its kind in the country. While other states adopt what is commonly known as the “Missouri plan” (a system involving a nominating commission) , Kansas is the only state in the union where a majority of the members of that commission are controlled by an interest group – attorneys – with no line of accountability to the people.
When there is a vacancy at the appellate level In Kansas, a nine- member commission convenes, five of which must be attorneys and are selected by attorneys within the state of Kansas. That commission then submits three names to the Governor, who must then select one of the names; otherwise, the decision goes to the Chief Justice. Therefore, attorneys essentially control one of our three branches of government, with no accountability to Kansans.
While we do have a retention system, the people rarely know anything about the judges on their ballot that up for retention – even to where a deceased judge was retained this past fall. Such a system has no meaning and thus has failed.
While the input of attorneys is quite valuable in determining a potential nominee’s qualifications and judicial background, that input should not be controlling in terms of who the nominees are.
That is why I favor substantial reform in this area.
The most prominent reform proposed can be found in SCR 1601, a proposed constitutional amendment, which would model Kansas on the federal system. In this system, the Governor would make the appointment to the Supreme Court and Kansas Court of Appeals and then his/her pick would be subject to confirmation by the Kansas Senate. Companion legislation would establish an independent review panel to help the Senate Judiciary Committee vet the nominees.
Remember, attorneys would still be able to provide input and that input would likely have an impact on the decision of the Governor as well as the Senators about who should serve on our appellate courts.
However, this reform would retain the independence of the judiciary while providing accountability to the people through a transparent and fair process, allowing them to have confidence and trust in our judicial system.
As these reforms reach the floor in their final form, I will provide additional updates. Thank you.