TOPEKA — The commission that screens applications for the Kansas Supreme Court and state Court of Appeals said Friday that it will stop having private interviews with judicial candidates in hopes of boosting public confidence in the selection process.
The Supreme Court Nominating Commission's decision to open the interviews to the public comes after an unsuccessful campaign to remove four Supreme Court justices in this year's election and amid criticism that the selection process is too dominated by attorneys and lacks sufficient transparency.
With Court of Appeals Judge Nancy Caplinger's recent promotion to the state Supreme Court, the public will get quick look at the commission's new public interview process. Caplinger's potential successors are expected to be interviewed Feb. 17-18.
"The decision to open the interviews recognizes that a more transparent process of appellate judicial selection is important," commission chairwoman Anne Burke, an Overland Park attorney, said in a statement.
The commission picks up to three finalists for each appellate court vacancy and submits their names to the governor, who makes the appointment. Voters decide every six years for Supreme Court justices and every four years for Court of Appeals judges whether an appointee stays on the bench.
There's no confirmation of appellate court appointees by the Kansas Senate and no role for legislators in the selection process. Kansas is one of 11 states with such a system. And it is the only state in which attorneys chosen only by other attorneys make up a majority of the commission screening applications for the appellate courts. That's led some critics to describe Kansas' system as the least accessible to the public in the nation.
One critic, state House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer, said the commission's move doesn't solve the fundamental problem with the selection process. But he welcomed the action as a step toward openness.
"It certainly is a change in tone," Kinzer, R-Olathe, said in an interview. "In the past, when myself and others have raised concerns that the process is too insular, the response has been that the process is entirely appropriate."
Kansas voters amended the state Constitution in 1958 to create the current selection process, switching from partisan elections. Since then, voters have not removed a justice or appeals judge.
This year, the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life urged members to vote to oust four of the seven Supreme Court justices. It named its campaign "Fire Beier," after Justice Carol Beier, who had written majority opinions in abortion cases that upset the group. The effort failed, but the justices were retained by smaller-than-normal margins.