A Republican primary in Kansas this week sent at least seven incumbent moderate state senators to defeat. If the trend stays intact in November, the Senate will shift rightward, and added conservative Republicans would likely help Gov. Sam Brownback try to get more influence over picking judges for the state’s appellate courts.
That analysis came from a Topeka Capitol Journal article. While it was too early for Brownback’s office to spell out its upcoming priorities, in the past, they have included changing the process for selecting appellate judges. The conservative group Americans for Prosperity, an ally of the governor’s, also has made judicial selection reform a priority.
AFP and Kansans for Life, an anti-abortion group, favor changes to let the governor name Court of Appeals judges and state Supreme Court justices, with confirmation by the state Senate.
This year, the Kansas Senate defeated a bill to replace merit selection of judges on the Court of Appeals with appointment by the governor, subject to Senate confirmation (see Gavel Grab).
Under current law, a nominating commission screens candidates for vacancies on the Court of Appeals and recommends three finalists to the governor. Voters later decide in up-or-down retention elections whether the judge can stay on the bench. Kansas’ system is similar to merit selection systems in other states yet it alone has lawyers picked exclusively by other lawyers comprising a majority — five of nine members — of the screening commission.
When the legislation was under consideration, a Kansas City Star editorial said the bill “would jettison a judicial nominating process that has served Kansas well for more than 50 years and replace it with political appointments of judges.”