Politics & Government

Kansas House to debate measure to change selection of Supreme Court justices

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Tuesday that voters should have a say in the way state Supreme Court justices are selected. (Jan. 29, 2014)
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Tuesday that voters should have a say in the way state Supreme Court justices are selected. (Jan. 29, 2014) Associated Press

The Kansas House will debate a bill Wednesday to change the way Kansas Supreme Court justices are selected.

HCR 5005 would amend the state’s Constitution so that Kansas Supreme Court justices would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, similar to the way judges are selected at the federal level.

If the proposal obtains a two-thirds majority in both the Kansas House and Senate, it would be added to the November ballot statewide.

The vote comes the same day Chief Justice Lawton Nuss is set to deliver his annual State of the Judiciary address. It also comes after the state court drew criticism for overturning the death sentences of Jonathan and Reginald Carr for killings in Wichita in 2000. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the state court’s decision last month.

The current selection system, approved by voters in 1958, relies on a nominating commission made up of five lawyers selected by the state’s and four people selected by the governor. The panel chooses three nominees, and the governor selects one of the three.

Gov. Sam Brownback has repeatedly called for that system to be scrapped, saying he wants a more democratic system.

“This is an issue that’s not going away until Kansas voters decide it,” Attorney General Derek Schmidt told House Republicans at a caucus meeting Tuesday. “Either by reaffirming the current system, which is one possible outcome, or by adopting an alternate system.”

The House Republican Caucus will hear from Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Stephen Ware, a professor at the University of Kansas School of Law, both outspoken advocates for changing the Supreme Court selection process, on Wednesday before the vote in the full House.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, R-Overland Park, a moderate Republican, noted that Kobach’s Prairie Fire PAC campaigned against moderates in the last election.

She said House leadership was trying to use the presentations to pressure moderates to support the judicial selection change. “It has a vein of threat to it. It’s not presented as debate, it’s presented as this is what will happen if you vote no,” she said.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, rejected this notion.

“I don’t think it’s trying to sway anybody on anything,” Merrick said. “It’s just information.”

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