Last week, Governor Brownback nominated his chief counsel, Caleb Stegall, to a newly created seat on Kansas’ court of appeals, reigniting a war of words between his supporters and detractors. The judicial selection saga in Kansas began last spring when Republican legislators worked to eliminate the role of the judicial nominating commission in screening appellate court applicants and recommending the best qualified to the governor for appointment. There was not enough support to amend the constitution for supreme court appointments, but a court of appeals change was accomplished by statute. When the opportunity arose last month to fill a vacancy on the intermediate appellate court, Brownback attracted both local and national criticism by announcing that he would not make public the names of applicants for the position. Now, in response to the charge that Brownback pushed for a change in the selection process in order to appoint Stegall to the bench, a member of the judicial nominating commission is speaking out. According to a Brownback commission appointee, Stegall was one of the best qualified applicants for two previous court of appeals vacancies but was passed over for nomination because of politics. According to the commission’s chair, however, the commission prioritized judicial experience in its nominations, with the eventual appointees having 24 years of experience on the bench between them, while Stegall has never served as a judge.
Stegall’s nomination must be confirmed by the senate, which will take up the matter in a special session beginning September 3. The Republican chair of the senate judiciary committee asked three respected attorneys with Kansas ties to develop a questionnaire to be used in the confirmation hearings and assures the public that “this will probably be the most thorough confirmation hearing the state has seen in recent memory.”