TOPEKA — Republican Gov. Sam Brownback promised Monday to move “aggressively” to name a new Kansas Court of Appeals judge but wouldn’t pin down the date, even though a top Democratic legislator has called for the nomination to come this week.
State law gives Brownback until Aug. 29 to nominate the new judge to the state’s second-highest court. The Republican-dominated Legislature is scheduled to start a special session Sept. 3, and the Senate will be legally required to consider the appointment after lawmakers convene.
Brownback called the special session so lawmakers can rewrite a law that allows judges to sentence some convicted murderers to life in prison with no chance of parole for 50 years, rather than life with parole eligibility after 25 years. A U.S. Supreme Court decision in June raised questions about the Kansas statute’s constitutionality.
The governor and GOP leaders have insisted the special session – to be formally called Tuesday – should last only a few days. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, argues that senators and others won’t have enough time to scrutinize Brownback’s judicial nominee if the governor waits to name that person until late August.
Brownback said he’s interviewing candidates this week, but they will have to undergo background checks by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, preventing him from committing to a date for an early appointment. He didn’t say how many candidates he will be interviewing, and his office won’t release a list of applicants.
“We want to move it aggressively as we can, but I don’t have a date,” Brownback said after a meeting with legislative leaders about the sale of surplus state properties. “But we want to get it out there in plenty of time for people to look the nominee over.”
The Court of Appeals appointment is the first under a law that took effect last month allowing the governor to appoint the judges, subject to Senate confirmation. Under the old system – still in place for the Kansas Supreme Court – a nominating commission screened applicants and named three finalists, with no role for lawmakers after the governor’s appointment.
Hensley said last week that the governor should name the new judge by Friday.
“We have to an ample amount of time in order to vet this appointment,” Hensley said Monday. “This is the first court of appeals appointment under this new law, and I think we need to do it right.”