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Kansas House Considers Change to Supreme Court Selection

The Kansas House during the debate. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)

The Kansas House Wednesday advanced a bill changing the way state Supreme Court justices are selected. However, the measure came up short of the 2/3rds majority it would ultimately need to pass during a final vote Thursday.
 
Critics of the current system say it isn’t democratic enough, because the nominees for the court are screened and selected by a commission. Republican Representative James Todd is one of the supporters of changing the system.

“Our current system pushes the people aside and implies that they, or their representatives, are unqualified to weigh in on something so important,” said Todd.

Some lawmakers want to change the system to allow the governor to pick nominees, who would then be confirmed by the Senate. Todd said the power should be in the hands of lawmakers who answer to their voters.

“We need to increase the power of the people to select the third, co-equal branch of government in Kansas, the Supreme Court,” said Todd.

Republican Representative Steven Becker, a former judge, said he believes lawmakers are trying to strike back at the courts for recent rulings.

“I think it’s a huge overreaction to a court that’s not doing what we want them to do,” said Becker.

In a rare media briefing, Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said Kansans do have a voice in the process. He pointed to the retention elections held for Supreme Court justices every six years.

“I don’t know how much more democratic you can get in a process that puts my future in the hands of the voter directly in the ballot box or in the voting booth,” said Nuss.

Nuss says the current system works well and was itself approved by voters in response to a judicial scandal.

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(BROADCAST VERSION)

Lawmakers in the Kansas House have been debating whether the state should change the way Supreme Court justices are selected. The change would allow the governor to pick a new justice, subject to Senate confirmation. Under the current system, a nominating commission sends a list of candidates to the governor who must choose from that pool of candidates. Changing the system would require a change to the state Constitution, which voters would have to approve. Republican Representative James Todd says this proposal would put more power in the hands of the people. 


“Our current system pushes the people aside and implies that they, or their representatives, are unqualified to weigh in on something so important,” says Todd.
 
Opponents of the change say Kansans do have a voice in the process because the elected governor chooses the final candidate and judges have retention elections where voters can remove them from office. The resolution got enough votes to advance to final consideration on Thursday, but it was short of the 2/3rds majority it will ultimately need to pass.

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(VERSION TWO)

The Kansas House has advanced a bill changing the way state Supreme Court justices are selected.  However, the measure is short of the votes it would ultimately need to pass.   The resolution would change the Constitution to let the governor select candidates for the state's highest court, who must then be confirmed by the Kansas Senate. Supporters say this gives the public a stronger voice in the process because their elected officials make the choice.  Republican Representative Steven Becker, a former judge, says he believes lawmakers are trying to strike back at the courts for recent rulings.


“I think it’s a huge overreaction to a court that’s not doing what we want them to do,” says Becker.
 
Some opponents of the change say it would put more politics into the process of selecting judges.  Under the current system, a nominating commission provides three candidates to the governor, who gets to make the final pick. 
 
 

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