The Kansas Bar Association’s Board of Governors met Tuesday, May 14, via teleconference to consider and vote on a proposal put forward by key legislators in both the Kansas House and Senate that gives the governor the authority to appoint five members to the nine-member Supreme Court Nominating Commission. Twenty-eight of the 30 members of the board, which represents attorneys from across Kansas, participated in the conference. The participating members unanimously opposed the proposal as the latest attempt to change the merit selection process of the Kansas Supreme Court. The Board of Governors believes the proposal brought before them allowed the executive branch of Kansas’ government too much control over the judicial branch and represented a serious violation of the separation of powers.
Under the legislators’ proposal, the five gubernatorial appointees would serve at the governor’s pleasure, not under terms of service as they do now. In addition, any nominee would also be subjected to a Senate confirmation process that could potentially delay the filling of vacancies if the legislature was not in session at the time a nominee was named.
“The KBA membership has been and is strongly in favor of merit selection for the Kansas Court of Appeals and Supreme Court,” said KBA President Lee Smithyman, an attorney in Overland Park. “Because of that strong preference, the KBA leadership has worked tirelessly with the current administration and legislature to address criticisms of the present system while preserving the benefits of merit selection. The KBA will continue to solicit input from its members on this issue and remains committed to a fair and reasonable merit-based method for selecting appellate court judges.”
For nearly 60 years Kansas has used the merit selection system for selecting its Supreme Court justices and enjoys one of the most highly regarded appellate judiciaries in the United States. Currently, the governor appoints justices from the recommendations of the nominating commission, which is composed of citizens and lawyers from across the state. Through this process, justices are chosen because of their ability and their integrity, eliminating political favoritism that may occur in gubernatorial appointments or the need for judicial candidates to raise political contributions in direct elections. In addition, justices are subjected to a retention vote every six years with judicial performance reviews by Kansas citizens.