Claiming election fraud, four Kansans filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday to block the filling of a current opening on the Kansas Supreme Court.
The suit seeks to change the way the Kansas Constitution allows appointment of justices by the governor, following recommendations of a nominating committee.
"I've been talking to friends in the community, and a lot of us believe the current method of selecting Supreme Court Justices is just not right," said Wichita businessman Bob Dool, one of the plaintiffs in the suit.
Dool, Thomas Schermuly of Wichita, Julie Brown of Olathe and Donald Rosenow of Clay Center filed the lawsuit through Indiana attorney James Bopp Jr.
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Bopp worked on the case that earlier this year resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court overturning controls on campaign financing for corporations, unions and nonprofit organizations.
"He has become perhaps the most prominent lawyer in the country in campaign finance and election law, especially as the go-to guy for conservative religious groups wanting to work within the system, but work it for sure," the American Bar Association Journal wrote of Bopp in 2006.
The four Kansans filing the suit are registered Republicans.
The suit seeks a federal restraining order to prevent a nominating commission from filling the vacancy on the Kansas Supreme Court left by the recent retirement and death of Chief Justice Robert Davis.
If the current selection process remains in place, nominations for Davis' replacement could be sent to Gov. Mark Parkinson by October. Parkinson, a Democrat, could name a new justice before the general election in November.
"The Nominating Commission fully intends to proceed with identifying nominees to fill the current vacancy on the court absent a court order to the contrary," said Ron Keefover, spokesman for the Kansas Judicial Center. "It is important that the vacancy be filled expeditiously so that the Supreme Court can stay current with its caseload."
Jay Fowler, a Wichita lawyer who serves on the nominating panel, said the present process concentrates on experience and qualifications in picking those who will sit on the state's highest court.
"Our constitution establishes the current method of the selection of justices in an attempt to take politics out of the process," said Fowler, a Democrat.
Three of the five attorneys serving on the nominating committee are Republicans.
Being an attorney is a requirement for holding a judicial office in Kansas. A Supreme Court nominee must have 10 years' law experience.
The suit claims the nine-person commission, made up of lawyers and lay people, usurps the right of voters to help select justices on the state's highest court.
"Here, the State of Kansas has set up elections and restricted the franchise exclusively to attorneys," the suit says.
Here's how the current system works:
* Registered attorneys hold a statewide election to pick the chair of the nominating committee. That position is currently held by Anne E. Burke (R-Overland Park).
* Lawyers in each of the four Congressional districts then elect a representative of their peers. Presently they are Kerry E. McQueen (R-Liberal), Patricia E. Riley (D-Topeka), Matthew D. Keenan (R-Leawood), and Fowler.
* The governor appoints four non-lawyers, representing each of the four Congressional districts.
* The committee serves as a screening process to interview applicants. It then recommends three names to the governor, who makes the final appointment.
The lawsuit doesn't take issue with the four laypeople on the committee.
But it said limiting some members of the committee to attorneys violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment grants equal protection to all citizens, including the right to vote.
The case has been assigned to Senior U.S. District Judge Monti Belot in Wichita.