Removing politics from the judiciary is about as likely as removing the "moo" from a cow.
In Kansas, there is little transparency and a great deal of discrimination in this backroom judicial selection process. Richard D. Greene, chief judge of the Kansas Court of Appeals, neglected these odious features in his defense of this terribly flawed system ("Don't politicize judicial appointment system," Feb. 24 Opinion).
I write this as a second-class Kansan who has been disenfranchised in the process of selecting a majority of the members of the Supreme Court Nominating Commission. Five of the nine members are elected solely by the members of the Kansas bar. The other four are appointed by the governor.
There is no other government panel in Kansas that empowers one small class of special citizens at the expense of the rest of us. And though this commission selection process is used in a number of other states, none requires a majority of its members to be lawyers.
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The closed-door selection process is a reason why, a few years ago, six of the seven members of the Kansas Supreme Court were members of one political party, while the seventh was a friend of the governor. The latter was judicially reprimanded, but that admonishment and the underlying egregious misbehavior that led to this punishment did not keep Lawton Nuss from becoming the chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court.
Yeah, there aren't any politics here. Yeah, only the best and the brightest are being added to the court, according to Greene.
Judicial selection is important, and court decisions can affect state policy.
Must the state spend hundreds of millions more dollars for K-12 schooling to comply with the Kansas Constitution? Yes, said the unanimous Supreme Court in overruling its own earlier decision.
Are state-owned casinos constitutional? Yes again, despite the fact that there never was a statewide vote on legalized casinos.
Is the Kansas death penalty constitutional? The state Supreme Court said that one key provision was not; then former Attorney General Phill Kline took this case to the U.S. Supreme Court and won, overturning that decision.
Today, the politics of the Kansas judiciary are occurring in the backrooms of the bar association. Transparency is nonexistent when the meetings of the government committee occur behind closed doors and without any public records being recorded from these meetings.
University of Kansas law professor Stephen Ware has written that this is an inequality that goes against the "one person, one vote" principle of democracies. The power of a vote of a member of the bar is "infinitely more powerful" than the votes of nonlawyers.
The Kansas House majority that supported House Bill 2101, which changes the selection process for appellate judges, should be praised for eliminating this vestige of elite discrimination by one class of specially empowered citizens. The attorneys and their handpicked judges don't like this bill, but the politics of judicial selection should be out in public where everyone has a say as well as a clear view, instead of hidden in backrooms.
I hope that a majority of the Kansas Senate, as well as Gov. Sam Brownback, agree and that HB 2101 becomes law. It is a first step in reforming appellate judicial selection in Kansas.