Topeka (KSNT) – In the Governor’s State of the State address, he proposed changing the way Kansas selects it’s Supreme Court Justices. Now Secretary of State Kris Kobach takes the proposal a step further, by saying the current Supreme Court justices are lower quality than other judges.
“The way we choose our justices in Kansas right now produces a court that is not as high a quality as it would be if we used the federal model,” says Kobach.
What Kansas currently uses is the ‘merit selection’ process, where a committee takes applications and from there narrows the candidates to three. Then, the Governor must pick one.
“It’s a competition. And competition means that the best people rise to the top,” says Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss.
The model Secretary Kobach proposed is called the ‘federal model’. It allows the Governor to choose whomever he wants, Then that candidate must be approved by the Kansas Senate.
“If the federal model had been put in place in Kansas many decades ago, we would certainly have a better supreme court than we have right now,” says Kobach.
But Chief Nuss believes Kobach’s comments stem not from their work, but rather their law degrees. All the current justices graduated from KU or Washburn.
“I don’t understand a criticism of the justices of the Supreme Court as being mediocre because we graduated from Kansas law schools,” says Chief Nuss.
“I would not say that the justices of the Supreme Court are incompetent or under-qualified. I would simply say that if we had the federal model in place, we would have better justices,” says Kobach.
Kobach says the federal model would put accountability on the Senate and Governor, by allowing the Governor to look at more than three candidates. But with that model, Chief Nuss believes it could allow for closed door deals.
“Under that system, it is possible for the governor to pick up a phone one day, call up some lawyer or judge and say, ‘Would you like to be on the Court?’ ” says Chief Nuss.
Chief Nuss says currently all of the candidates and their interviews are public record. The public can even sit in on the interview process and submit comments to the committee. Under Kobach’s proposal – that wouldn’t happen.
Kobach says his proposal would require approval by the legislature and then a public vote. So far, no bill to implement his proposal has been filed in the House or Senate.