Government & Politics

Kansas House falls short in vote to change selection of Supreme Court justices

The Wichita Eagle

A proposal to give the governor more control over Supreme Court appointments died Thursday in the Kansas House, failing to get the two-thirds vote required.

The proposed constitutional amendment would have done away with a nominating commission and given the governor full authority to choose justices, subject to Senate confirmation.

House members favored the proposal 68-54, but a proposed amendment requires two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate before it can be offered to voters. In the House, 84 votes are needed.

Currently, a nominating commission screens applicants for a Supreme Court vacancy and chooses three finalists. The governor selects from the three.

Backers of the change, including Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican allies, called the nominating commission undemocratic. Opponents said the commission provides a merit selection system that produces more qualified candidates.

Rep. Lane Hemsley, a Topeka Republican, told House members Thursday that people in his district are divided on the proposal and he wanted to give them the chance to vote on it.

“I vote aye because the Kansas Bill of Rights declares that all political power is inherent in the people,” he said.

Brownback and some Republicans have opposed Kansas Supreme Court rulings on a variety of issues, including school finance, the death penalty and abortion.

Kansans for Life, an anti-abortion group, sent letters to lawmakers favoring the amendment and said a legislator’s failure to support it “will be considered incompatible with our standards for endorsement in the upcoming electon.”

Some amendment opponents said the measure was put to a vote this week for election year purposes. A vote against the proposal could be used against moderate Republicans and Democrats in the 2016 election, they said.

“We depend upon the courts to uphold the constitution and for their rulings to be fair, impartial and apolitical,” House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat, said in a statement.

“Kansans can’t afford to turn the courts over to politicians, who think they should decide which cases the court should hear and how the court should rule.”

Edward M. Eveld: 816-234-4442, @EEveld