House approves bill to give governor and Senate more sway over selecting appeals judges

TOPEKA — The state House has approved a bill to change the way the state chooses appellate judges.

House Bill 2101 would bring Kansas more closely into line with the federal system of selection, with the governor nominating judges who would then have to be confirmed by the Senate.

Under the current system, a special commission selects up to three nominees whose names are sent to the governor. The governor can choose any of them or reject all and ask for new nominees.

The nominating commission is made up of four members and a chairperson chosen by the state’s licensed lawyers, and four lay members who cannot be attorneys, appointed by the governor.

The Senate has no role in the current selection process.

Changing the way judges are selected has been a key priority for Americans for Prosperity, a political group linked to Koch Industries that advocates for minimal government involvement in business. Gov. Sam Brownback has also been strongly supportive.

Opponents include the League of Women Voters, the Kansas and Wichita Bar Associations, the Kansas Association of Defense Counsel and retired Supreme Court Justice Fred N. Six.

Opponents charge that the change would inject partisan politics into the selection system, harming the independence of the judiciary.

Supporters say the current system is undemocratic because only lawyers can participate in selecting the majority of the commissioners who nominate the judges.

The change would only affect the Kansas Court of Appeals. The selection process for Supreme Court judges could only be changed with a constitutional amendment and local jurisdictions would remain free to use their current systems, either election or appointment.