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Lawmakers hear arguments for changing Kansas' court selection process at legislative retreat

The Wichita Eagle
Brent D. Wistrom
Saturday, December 8, 2012

Conservative lawmakers heard several options Saturday for changing how Kansas’ appellate and Supreme Court judges are selected in a discussion that may foreshadow a fierce debate in the upcoming legislative session.

Stephen Ware, a law professor at the University of Kansas, said Kansas’ judicial selection system is unusual and “undemocratic” in how it chooses its nominating commission.

Kansans elect a governor and the governor selects four members of the commission. But five of the members are elected by 10,000 or so members of the Kansas Bar Association.

Ware said Kansas is alone in giving the bar control of the majority of the commission. He said that violates the one-person, one-vote foundation of democracy by giving lawyers too much control in selecting judges via their private elections.

“It’s very political, but it’s out of the sunshine,” Ware said at a meeting of mostly conservative Republicans hosted by the nonprofit Kansas Legislative Education and Research group in Topeka. “Do you want your politics out in the open or do you want your politics behind closed doors?”

He said the state could reduce the number of commission members selected by the bar or the state could add Senate confirmation to provide more accountability.

Ware said he favors a third option — eliminating the commission and having the governor select judges with confirmation votes by the Senate.

Ware said some argue that once a judge is on the court, voters can kick them off in retention votes. But no judge has ever lost a retention election in Kansas, he said.

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