Power play

3/26/2013

Changes would put governor closer to total control.

Changes would put governor closer to total control.

It was in late January that Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Democrat from Topeka, said the judicial branch of Kansas' government "is the last remaining branch free from Gov. (Sam) Brownback's control."

He went on to tell the Topeka Capital-Journal that voting for a bill that would change the way judges are chosen for the state Court of Appeals "would give the governor control of all three branches of the government."

No man should have that kind of power.

And yet the Kansas Senate gave the measure final approval recently on a vote of 28-12. The House passed it earlier this month, and Brownback is expected to sign it.

The bill will abolish a nine-member nominating committee, which includes five attorneys and four non-attorneys appointed by the governor. This committee screens applicants for the Court of Appeals and submits the names of three finalists to the governor, who makes the appointment.

Instead, that process will be scrapped, giving Brownback and future governors the authority to make their own appointments, which would be subject to Senate confirmation.

The governor and many lawmakers want to change to a similar selection process for the Kansas Supreme Court, but that would require amending the state constitution. The Senate approved a proposed constitutional amendment earlier this year and the House has yet to vote on this measure. Two-thirds of its membership would be needed to place it on the August 2014 primary election ballot.

The concern is that partisan politics will find their way into the judicial branch of state government. The system currently in place works. The committee was put in place to recommend the most qualified members of the legal community for seats on the bench.

Changing the system creates the potential to compromise the high integrity of the selection process Kansas has today.

-- The Hutchinson News

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