The governor will appoint appeals court judges under a bill signed into law Wednesday.
The law takes the nomination away from the Supreme Court Nominating Commission, giving it to the governor.
Gov. Sam Brownback defended the law, saying, "This is not about controlling judges." Instead, he said it is judicial reform, giving an equal voice to the citizens.
Appeals judges currently are nominated by a Supreme Court Nominating Commission that includes five members elected by the Kansas Bar and four members appointed by the governor.
With the new law, the governor appoints persons to fill the vacancies of the appeals court. The Kansas Senate then approves the appointment. The new law is similar to the way the U.S. Supreme Court handles nominations.
“The guiding principle of our American democracy must be that every citizen stands equal before the law, with an equal voice in this long running American experiment in self-government,” Gov. Brownback said. “Kansans expect and are entitled to a government that is not beholden to any special interest group. Unfortunately in Kansas, our current system of selecting our appellate judges fails the democracy test.”
Brownback continued, “Rather than providing an equal voice to all Kansans in the selection of our Appeals and Supreme Court judges, Kansas is the only state in the union that allows a special interest group – to control the process of choosing who will be judges for the rest of us.”
“This is not about controlling judges. Judicial independence is vital and necessary for fair and just rulings from our courts. But judicial independence must rest firmly on the consent of the people. Public confidence is the best and only hedge around the independent judgments of our courts,” Brownback said. “I want to thank the Kansas Legislature for taking this important step towards reforming our system of judicial selection and restoring public confidence in our judiciary. We must give all Kansans an equal voice, whether directly or indirectly through elected representatives, in choosing our judicial leaders.”
The new law requires the clerk of the Kansas Supreme Court to give prompt notice of a vacancy to the governor, who must then make an appointment within 60 days.
If the governor does not make the appointment within 60 days, the chief justice of the Supreme Court will appoint a qualified person for the position.
The Kansas Senate must vote to confirm the appointment within 60 days of being received. If the Senate is not in session and will not be in session within the 60-day time limit, it must confirm the appointment within 20 days of the next session. If the Senate fails to vote within the time limit, its consent will be deemed given. If the appointee does not receive a majority vote in the Senate, the governor would appoint another qualified person within 60 days, and the same consent procedure would be followed.
The bill also creates the 14th Court of Appeals position on July 1, 2013.