Governor Sam Brownback suffered political defeat this past week. The governor wants the power to appoint Supreme Court justices with the approval of the Kansas Senate. The Kansas House of Representatives could muster only 68 of the 84 votes needed for the governor’s proposal to go to the Senate and eventually to the voters of Kansas.
The present system, which has been in effect for more than 50 years, has a nine-member nominating committee of which five must be attorneys. They nominate three candidates for a vacancy on the court, from which the governor must choose.
It has proved to be a deterrent to unethical behavior in making an appointment to the Supreme Court. This system was adopted after the late Governor Fred Hall was defeated in a primary for a second term in 1956 by State Senator Warren “Waddy” Shaw of Topeka, who then lost the general election to Democrat George Docking.
William Smith, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was in ill health, and he resigned his position on December 31, 1956, shortly before the inauguration of Governor-elect Docking. In the interim, the defeated Governor Hall set in motion a series of events that would redound to his benefit. Eleven days before the end of his term as governor, Hall decided also to resign from office. He dispatched a highway patrol car to Newton to bring Lieutenant Governor John McCuish, editor and owner of the “Harvey County News,” to Topeka to have McCuish sworn in as governor.
And in his only official act as governor for those final eleven days, McCuish appointed now former-Governor Hall to the Supreme Court to complete in rapid fire order what was dubbed a “triple political play.”