TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansans would either elect state Supreme Court justices or governors and legislators would have more power in deciding who sits on the high court under rival proposals advancing in the Legislature.
Both proposals approved by the House Judiciary Committee this week would amend the state constitution to scrap the current system, in which a lawyer-led nominating commission screens applicants for each vacancy. The commission picks three finalists, and the governor must choose one, with no role for lawmakers.
“It’s absolutely progress,” Rep. Mark Kahrs, a Wichita Republican, attorney and Judiciary Committee member, said Tuesday.
One proposal would fill vacancies on the court through partisan, statewide elections and then have such elections every six years for the new justices. Under the other proposal, the governor would appoint each new justice, subject to state Senate confirmation, and voters would decide every six years whether to keep the justice on the court, just as they do now.
The Judiciary Committee approved both measures on 13-9 votes Monday, sending them to the full House for debate. House leaders have yet to schedule debates on them.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and other GOP conservatives like Kahrs argue that the current selection system is undemocratic because of the control exerted by the attorneys who make up a majority of the nominating commission.
Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1958 to institute the current selection system, and supporters contend that it’s minimized partisan politics in picking justices. Democrats and more liberal Republicans also contend that Brownback and his allies want more control over the courts.
“There’s nothing wrong with our state’s judiciary,” said Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat and attorney who also serves on the Judiciary Committee.
A proposal to amend the state constitution must be adopted by two-thirds majorities in each chamber, then approved by a simple majority of voters in a statewide election.
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