The Houston Chronicle reports:
Gov. Sam Brownback told members of a conservative legal organization Thursday that recent changes in how state Court of Appeals judges are chosen had led to a more Democratic process, and afterward he said he would support similar changes for the Kansas Supreme Court.
His appearance at a Federalist Society luncheon in Overland Park comes the same month that the state Senate confirmed his chief counsel, Caleb Stegall, to a new seat on the Court of Appeals under a new law. Brownback advocated changing the state's judicial selection system, and the law that took effect in July allows him to appoint the judges on the state's second-highest court, subject to Senate confirmation.
"Now I think we have a system that is more of a vote of the people," Brownback said, describing the new system as a federal model. "I think that federal system worked pretty well. Now it gets hung up in the politics. There's no question that that happens as well. But we do have an active participation by the executive branch and the legislative branch. You've got two of your elected bodies that are engaged in it, and I think that is a good long-term system that has worked well for our country overall."
Under the old system, which is still used to pick Kansas Supreme Court judges, an attorney-led selection commission screened applicants for vacancies and named three finalists, with no role for legislators after the governor's appointment. Critics said the process leads to the selection of well-connected, centrist or left-of-center attorneys favored by the Kansas Bar Association. But supporters argue the process minimizes political considerations and focuses on candidates' legal skills and professional demeanor.
"I think some of us are concerned that by injecting politics into the selection of our judiciary we undermine the institutional integrity of that institution," Tristan Duncan, a constitutional law attorney for Shook Hardy & Bacon, told the governor.
Brownback and other conservative Republicans also sought to change the selection system for the Kansas Supreme Court. But while the Senate approved a proposed constitutional change to have the governor appoint members of the Supreme Court, the measure stalled in the House.
Brownback said he anticipated the issue would come back up in the upcoming session. Rep. Craig McPherson, an Overland Park Republican on the Judiciary Committee, agreed, saying after the speech that the issue "would be an important thing for us to take up."
"I think there are a lot of our constituents who are concerned," McPherson said. "I think a lot of people would prefer to be able to hold elected officials accountable for the decisions that are made, and there is a better opportunity under the federal model to do that."
Brownback, who hadn't yet decided whether he would push the issue as part of his annual State of the State address, said he would be open to either a federal model or direct elections of Kansas Supreme Court judges.
After the event, attorney Greg Musil of the law firm Polsinelli said with the changes he was "concerned about the overall independence and respect of the judiciary." He said people who become frustrated with the judiciary "don't realize that that's part of the constitutional framework — just like the governor is frustrated with the Legislature and vice versa."
"They each have different stakeholders and a different role," Musil said.
To learn more about states' different judicial selection laws, see the Federalist Society's State Courts Guide.