TOPEKA – Senators shot down a controversial bill Thursday that would have stripped the state bar of its power over judicial appointments and put it in the hands of the governor and Senate.
The proposal, long-sought by conservative Republicans, would have let the governor select appellate court judges that would be confirmed by the Senate, in a process similar to how federal Supreme Court justices are appointed in Washington, D.C.
The move failed on a 17-22 vote after several senators argued that it would give the governor control over the third branch of government, and one anti-abortion senator noted that a similar process in Washington, D.C., appointed the judges who ruled in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that affirmed women’s constitutional right to obtain an abortion.
Now, a commission of lawyers and gubernatorial appointees — five of the nine members are appointed by the Kansas Bar Association — screens candidates and selects three nominees for the governor to pick from. The governor can reject them all and request new nominations.
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Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration pushed for the change last year, arguing that the current process “cedes the authority to select one-third of Kansas’s government to a small select group of unaccountable specialists.”
But other Democrats and Republicans said the move essentially would put the governor in control of the third branch of government and open the judicial system to significant political influence.
“Granting the governor unilateral appointment power subject to Senate confirmation decimates a selection process that has worked well for many years and undermines the integrity and independence of the judicial branch of Kansas government,” said Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.
Sedgwick County Deputy District Attorney Kim Parker urged state senators in an e-mail to vote for the measure.
“The current process has failed the citizens of this state,” she wrote.
Several senators questioned whether the statement reflected the opinion of the DA’s office, headed by District Attorney Nola Foulston, a Democrat. Parker said the e-mail represented only her opinion. She said the process should become more open to public scrutiny.