Judicial elections, democratic appointment (e.g., senate confirmation), and the Missouri Plan (a/k/a "merit selection")

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Kansas Gov. Debate Features Judicial Selection

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback "assailed Democratic challenger Paul Davis Tuesday as a liberal who would appoint Kansas Supreme Court justices overly sympathetic to violent criminals, and Davis accused the Republican incumbent of trying to exploit a high-profile Wichita murder case to boost his re-election chances."  AP explains "The confrontation during their fourth and final debate came on the same day Brownback's campaign released a television ad referencing brothers Reginald and Jonathan Carr, whose death sentences for a quadruple homicide were vacated by the state Supreme Court in July."

The following sentence of this article unfortunately departs from good journalism to use one side's talking points in describing the current Kansas Supreme Court selection system.  "Brownback has long sought more power to directly appoint justices rather than use a longstanding merit system in which a committee comprised of lawyers and members of the public send up suggestions. The system was changed during his administration to give him more power over appointments to the Kansas Court of Appeals, but it takes a constitutional amendment to give him similar authority to appoint justices to the Kansas Supreme Court."

Where is the evidence that the current Kansas system produces more "merit" in the judiciary than the senate confirmation system advocated by Brownback, me and the Framers of the US Constitution (which has had a senate confirmation system for centuries)?  Responsible advocates of that system have stopped calling it "merit selection" because that phrase is just one interest group's propaganda. See pp. 760-62 of the article linked here.

And why describe the committee as "comprised of lawyers and members of the public", which sounds so reasonable by hiding the key issue of who selects the committee?  Why not more accurately explain that the committee is comprised of 5 lawyers selected by their fellow lawyers (the bar) and four non-lawyers selected by the governor?  Having the lawyers selected in such an undemocratic way is the controversial part of the current system but you'd never know that from this article.

Also, the article is simply wrong in saying the committee "send[s] up suggestions."  They are not "suggestions."  They are requirements.  The governor must pick one of the committee's 3 favorites.
The committee (actually "commission") is very powerful and that's why the undemocratic selection of it is so troubling.  But you'd never know that from this article.  Nor would you know that Kansas is the only state that it allows its bar so much power in picking its commission.

More about Kansas Supreme Court selection here and here

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