Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday signed into law a measure that dramatically changes the way Kansas appoints Court of Appeals judges.
The measure removes the Kansas Bar Association’s longstanding role of screening candidates and gives the governor the sole power to select the nominees who then face confirmation by the Kansas Senate.
The measure foreshadows an even larger effort by the Republican governor to change how state Supreme Court justices are chosen, though that would require voter approval.
“This is not about controlling judges,” said Brownback, who is also a lawyer. “Judicial independence is vital and necessary for fair and just rulings from our courts. But judicial independence must rest firmly on the consent of the people.”
Republican legislators sought to change the process following a Kansas Supreme Court ruling in 2005 that ordered the state to increase funding for public schools. Those efforts were blocked by moderate GOP leaders in the Senate, but the process was revived this year when conservatives gained control of that chamber.
Defenders of the current system say it insulates the judiciary from politics. But Brownback and fellow Republicans believe it puts too much power in the hands of attorneys to screen nominees. The governor must accept one of three names forwarded to him with no legislative oversight of the selection.
Currently, five of the nine members of the nominating commission are selected by the Kansas Bar Association and the remaining four by the governor.
“Kansans expect and are entitled to a government that is not beholden to any special interest group,” Brownback said. “Unfortunately in Kansas, our current system of selecting our appellate judges fails the democracy test.”