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Controversy over Selection Reform Comes to a Head in Kansas

Malia Reddick Posted in News, Quality Judges

It has been an eventful week judicial selection-wise in the Kansas legislature. As IAALS Online covered last week, conservative legislators and bar leaders were discussing a compromise selection reform proposal for the state’s appellate judges. The chairman of the senate judiciary committee, Jeff King, announced the details of that compromise on Monday—i.e., that a nominating commission would continue to screen applicants and recommend candidates to the governor and senate confirmation of judicial appointments would be required. However, a significant change would be made to the selection and composition of the nominating commission, with the governor appointing five of the nine commissioners and state bar members electing four. (Currently, the bar elects five members and the governor appoints four.)

On Tuesday, believing that the compromise gave the governor too much authority in the process, the Kansas Bar Association’s board of governors rejected the compromise by a unanimous vote. Tuesday also saw Chief Justice Lawton Nuss accusing Senator King of suggesting that the court’s budget was contingent upon judicial groups supporting selection reform, an allegation that King denied. On Wednesday, house judiciary committee chair Lance Kinzer introduced three new proposals aimed at the appellate courts: the first would establish a federal selection process—including life tenure—for appellate judges, the second would reduce the mandatory retirement age from 75 to 65, and the third would abolish the current court of appeals and create a court of criminal appeals and a court of civil appeals, each of which would have the final say in some cases.