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Kansas House Considers Change To Supreme Court Selection

J. Stephen Conn
flickr Creative Commons

The Kansas House Wednesday advanced a bill changing the way state Supreme Court justices are selected. However, the measure came up short of the 2/3 majority it would ultimately need to pass during a final vote Thursday.

Critics of the current system say it isn’t democratic enough, because the nominees for the court are screened and selected by a commission. Republican Rep. James Todd is one of the supporters of changing the system.

“Our current system pushes the people aside and implies that they, or their representatives, are unqualified to weigh in on something so important,” Todd said.

Some lawmakers want to change the system to allow the governor to pick nominees, who would then be confirmed by the Senate. Todd said the power should be in the hands of lawmakers who answer to their voters.

“We need to increase the power of the people to select the third, co-equal branch of government in Kansas, the Supreme Court,” Todd said.

Republican Rep. Steven Becker, a former judge, said he believes lawmakers are trying to strike back at the courts for recent rulings.

“I think it’s a huge overreaction to a court that’s not doing what we want them to do,” Becker said.

In a rare media briefing, Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said Kansans do have a voice in the process. He pointed to the retention elections held for Supreme Court justices every six years.

“I don’t know how much more democratic you can get in a process that puts my future in the hands of the voter directly in the ballot box or in the voting booth,” Nuss said.

Nuss said the current system works well and was itself approved by voters in response to a judicial scandal.