Kassebaum, Tacha oppose new Kansas method of picking judges

08/30/2013 9:55 AM

08/30/2013 9:55 AM

Former Kansas Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker and one-time federal appellate judge Deanell Reece Tacha have penned an op-ed in which they go to bat for the state’s long-standing non-partisan court plan.

In the piece, they oppose Kansas’ new method for picking state appellate court judges. That system resembles the federal process whereby the governor makes a pick subject to state Senate confirmation.

Gov. Sam Brownback just used that new process

to select his chief counsel

, Caleb Stegall, for a seat on the state Court of Appeals.

“Our concern is not with any particular nominee,” the two wrote, “but with the process.”

“One has only to look at events around the world right now to know that one of the cornerstones of the rule of law upon which public trust depends is the open and transparent selection of judges who will model unbiased, impartial, ethical, and informed decision making,” they said.

The non-partisan court plan involves the selection of a three-judge panel that a committee screens. That panel is sent to the governor who makes a selection.

“The merit-based selection process is in place in roughly two-thirds of the states and has yielded hundreds of highly qualified judges. Any process for selecting judges must be one that reassures all Kansans that the courts are a safe place where every citizen can receive a fair hearing and equal justice under the law,” Kassebaum and Tacha wrote.

“We cannot let Kansas be the place where the judiciary is under any cloud of suspicion that the selection process is based on anything other than merit and that the judges are answerable to anything other than the law, including the Constitution.

“We urge all those involved in the process of selecting judges to be open, transparent, and attentive to the central tenet that trust in the judiciary is a necessary characteristic of a society governed by the rule of law.

“The merit-based selection process works for these purposes. For the good of the state and its people, we should not abandon it.”

Their complete piece:

Kansans Deserve Free and Fair Courts

The two of us have many things in common, but perhaps at the top of the list is that we both care passionately about Kansas, and we both are deeply committed to preserving good government and the rule of law for future generations.

Between us we have served in all three branches of the federal government and been involved in countless state and local endeavors. These experiences have impressed upon us the critical importance of public trust in the judiciary.

One has only to look at events around the world right now to know that one of the cornerstones of the rule of law upon which public trust depends is the open and transparent selection of judges who will model unbiased, impartial, ethical, and informed decision making. The Governor has now named a nominee who is worthy of careful and thoughtful consideration. Our concern is not with any particular nominee, but with the process.

As our friend, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor recently warned "It's a serious problem that people in this country think of judges as politicians in robes." Kansas has long been one of those states with an effective and efficient merit-based selection process by which judges were selected. That process protected the impartiality of the judiciary without sacrificing accountability.

The merit-based selection process is in place in roughly two-thirds of the states and has yielded hundreds of highly qualified judges. Any process for selecting judges must be one that reassures all Kansans that the courts are a safe place where every citizen can receive a fair hearing and equal justice under the law.

We cannot let Kansas be the place where the judiciary is under any cloud of suspicion that the selection process is based on anything other than merit and that the judges are answerable to anything other than the law, including the Constitution.

We urge all those involved in the process of selecting judges to be open, transparent, and attentive to the central tenet that trust in the judiciary is a necessary characteristic of a society governed by the rule of law.

The merit-based selection process works for these purposes. For the good of the state and its people, we should not abandon it.

Nancy Landon Kassebaum Baker

(Former United States Senator from Kansas)

Deanell Reece Tacha (Retired Judge, US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and Dean, Pepperdine University School of Law)

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