Judicial selection in Kansas

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Judicial selection in the states
Judicial selection in Kansas
Seal of Kansas.png
Kansas Supreme Court
Method:   Comm. select., Gov. appt.
Term:   6 years
Kansas Court of Appeals
Method:   Comm. select., Gov. appt.
Term:   4 years
Kansas District Courts
Method:   Comm. select., Gov. appt. or Partisan elections
Term:   4 years

There are two methods of judicial selection in Kansas: commission-selection, political appointment method and partisan elections.

Appellate courts

The seven members of the Kansas Supreme Court are selected using a commission-selection, political appointment method. The commission that makes recommendations is called the Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission. It includes nine members who give a slate to the Governor of Kansas of potential political appointees to the Kansas Supreme Court.

For the Kansas Court of Appeals, the Governor makes the appointment. The nominating commission's role in selecting judges for the Court of Appeals was eliminated by legislation passed on March 27, 2013.[1]

Retention votes

After a judge or justice has been appointed to the court, he or she must stand for a retention election in the next general election more than one year after taking office. After the first retention vote, justices and appellate judges are subject to a retention vote every six years thereafter.

District Courts


In seventeen of the districts, judges are chosen through the commission-selection, political appointment method. These judges stand for retention after their first year in office. If retained, they serve four year terms.[2]

The districts that use a commission-based, political appointment system are:


In fourteen of the districts, judges are chosen in partisan elections. These judges serve four year terms and run for re-election at the end of their terms.[2]

The districts with partisan elections are:

History of Kansas judicial selection

Until 1958, judges in Kansas were elected by popular vote, with the governor having the right to appoint judges to the court when a vacancy occurred between the state's regularly scheduled elections. Popular outrage over what is known as the Triple Play of 1956 led to the Kansas Legislature placing a constitutional amendment on the 1958 ballot that set up the current commission-selection, political-appointment method of judge selection, where it was approved by a wide margin. The Kansas Bar Association lobbied heavily for the reform for several years before it finally was enacted.[5]

Criticism of selection process

Stephen Ware, a law professor at the University of Kansas, is a critic of the way judges are selected through the SCNC. In November 2007, he presented an academic report regarding what he sees as the flaws in the process of choosing judges in current use in Kansas.[6] Ware writes, "Kansas is the only state in the union that gives the members of its bar majority control over the selection of state supreme court justices. The bar consequently may have more control over the judiciary in Kansas than in any other state." He proposes a series of reforms which he says would "reduce the amount of control exercised by the bar and establish a more public system of checks and balances".

His objections can be summarized as:

  • When the SCNC chooses a slate of judges for the governor to make a final selection from, their votes are conducted in secret.
  • Although the SCNC is said to be non-partisan, the historical record is that governors appoint to the commission members who are sympathetic to their political ideologies, often selecting commission members who are distinctly partisan.
  • From 1987-2007, governors appointed 22 people to the SCNC. In every case, when a governor appointed a member of the commission, that appointee was a member of the governor's own political party.
  • This has resulted in nominations of justices to the Kansas Supreme Court who are themselves partisan.

2011 reform efforts

In 2011, the governor and legislature prioritized altering the state's method of judicial selection. In fact, a letter addressed to the "Freshman Conservative Class" of state Republican legislators outlined the goals of the party in January. The first objective listed was: "Kansas should change its judicial selection process to require legislative confirmation of judges or adopting election of judges statewide."[7]


Kansas State Capital

In March, the Kansas House of Representatives passed a bill that would eliminate the Supreme Court Nominating Commission. The legislative body instead wanted to embrace the federal model of judicial selection, where the executive appoints a judge to a vacancy and the Senate confirms the judge.[8]

Though the House passed the bill, it never got a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The chairman said, "I think this is the first time I did not hear a bill because I thought it was so bad. This is a terrible, terrible bill that’s hated by the courts; it’s an attempt to take over control of the courts."[9]

The bill was supported by Governor Sam Brownback, who felt that bypassing the lawyer-controlled nominating commission would make the process more "open".[10]

Arguments in favor of the bill reflect the ideas outlined in Stephen Ware's critique.

See also

External links