Open judicial selection process welcome, endangered

justiceladyThis week’s vetting of 13 applicants for the Kansas Supreme Court stood out for its welcome transparency, including a public audience and even live-tweeting of the interviews by some observers. And the three finalists recommended to Gov. Sam Brownback by the Supreme Court Nominating Commission all seem well-qualified – Kansas Court of Appeals Judges Karen Arnold-Burger and Caleb Stegall and 5th Judicial District Chief Judge Merlin Wheeler. But it could be the last such exercise of open government in Kansas if a re-elected Brownback and conservative Legislature again pursue a constitutional amendment to junk the nonpartisan commission in favor of letting the governor do his own picking, subject to a Senate vote. That would be a bad move. Before Brownback chose Stegall, an administration attorney, for the appeals court last summer, exercising his new unilateral selection power for that court, the governor released no names of applicants or finalists and the vetting was done behind closed doors. What Brownback sold to legislators as a remedy for the supposedly secretive, undemocratic nominating commission system turned out to be more secretive as well as partisan.