TOPEKA, Kan. (Legal Newsline) -- Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's decision to break with precedent and not reveal the names of applicants for a newly-created seat on the state Court of Appeals has drawn the ire of special interest groups.
On Monday, Justice at Stake joined Traditional Republicans for Common Sense, a group of more than 55 former Kansas legislators, in demanding the names of the applicants.
"When Kansas legislators discarded a proven and popular system for picking Court of Appeals judges, they wrapped their arguments around accountability. Now that a new process is in place, it's wrapped in secrecy," JAS said in a statement.
"If the governor doesn't invoke transparency until he has picked a nominee, it would mean a huge step backward for fair courts in Kansas."
In a June 21 press release, Brownback said his office already had received "a number of applications" for the 14th seat on the Court of Appeals, a position created by the 2013 Legislature.
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the governor said the office would not be releasing those names.
Two days later, the group of former lawmakers pushed for Brownback to make the names public, noting that the governor promised his process -- replacing a merit-based system that was in place since the court was created -- would be open and transparent.
Under the new law -- enacted in March -- the clerk of the state Supreme Court is required to give prompt notice of a vacancy to the governor, who must then make an appointment within 60 days.
If the governor does not make the appointment within 60 days, the chief justice of the Supreme Court will appoint a qualified person for the position.
The Kansas Senate then must vote to confirm the appointment within 60 days of being received.
If the Senate is not in session and will not be in session within the 60-day time limit, it must confirm the appointment within 20 days of the next session.
If the Senate fails to vote within the time limit, its consent will be deemed given.
If the appointee does not receive a majority vote in the Senate, the governor would appoint another qualified person within 60 days, and the same consent procedure would be followed.
"This is not about controlling judges," Brownback said in March. "Judicial independence is vital and necessary for fair and just rulings from our courts. But judicial independence must rest firmly on the consent of the people. Public confidence is the best and only hedge around the independent judgments of our courts.
"We must give all Kansans an equal voice, whether directly or indirectly through elected representatives, in choosing our judicial leaders."
Prior to the new law, Court of Appeals judges were chosen by merit selection.
Under merit selection, a panel of lawyers and non-lawyers interviews applicants to be judges, checks their references and sends the most qualified finalists to the governor. The governor then selects one of the finalists to fill the vacancy.
The new process -- also known as the "federal process" -- is similar to how justices for the U.S. Supreme Court are appointed.
"Kansans want their judges selected based on qualifications, not partisan politics or back-room deals," JAS said Monday. "When judicial selection takes place behind closed doors, Kansans are left in the dark -- and the potential for eroding trust in a key court is escalated."
JAS describes itself as a nonpartisan, nonprofit campaign working to keep America's courts fair and impartial.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.