Politics & Government

Brownback signs judicial transparency bill

Gov. Sam Brownback has signed a bill that will make the special commission that nominates Kansas Supreme Court justices subject to the state’s open records and meetings laws, his office said Wednesday.
Gov. Sam Brownback has signed a bill that will make the special commission that nominates Kansas Supreme Court justices subject to the state’s open records and meetings laws, his office said Wednesday. Associated Press

A bill that will make the special commission that nominates Kansas Supreme Court justices subject to the state’s open records and meetings laws has been signed by Gov. Sam Brownback.

SB 128 also will require Brownback to disclose the names of applicants for the Kansas Court of Appeals, something he has refused to do when making appointments to the court.

Supporters say the measures will increase the transparency of the judicial selection process.

The law prohibits the Supreme Court Nominating Commission, the nine-member panel that sends nominees to governor for vacancies on the high court, from closing a meeting for any reason except to discuss a candidate’s financial information or background check.

All other conversations by the commission during the nominating process will be open to the public.

“This is a banner year for government accountability and transparency,” said Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence, one of the bill’s primary proponents. He noted this bill signing comes a week after the governor signed a bill to make public officials’ private e-mails open to the public when they pertain to public business.

The nominating commission is made up of four members appointed by the governor and five members elected by the state’s practicing attorneys.

The bill also will require the clerk of the Kansas Supreme Court to submit a list of the lawyers eligible to vote to the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office ahead of these elections, which some Democrats warned would give too much power to Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

“I thought the bill had some very good provisions, but I’ve taken a principle of keeping Kris Kobach out of as many things as possible because he tends to screw things up. Look at what he’s done to the other elections he’s been involved with,” said Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita. He noted that a federal judge ordered Kobach to register thousands of suspended voters for federal elections this week.

Kobach called Ward’s criticism ridiculous.

“My suspicion is that Mr. Ward is not interested in any transparency in the way that these elections are run, but the law will provide for transparency as to the number of people who participate and what the results of the elections are,” Kobach said.

The legislation also requires the governor to disclose the names of applicants to the Court of Appeals 10 days before making an appointment to that court. Brownback has refused media requests to release the names of applicants in the past.

Rich Gannon, lobbyist for the Kansas Press Association, praised the bill’s signing.

“It allows the public to see who the candidates were and decide whether the right choice was made,” Gannon said. “This is great for open government.”

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3

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