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

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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Senate Confirmation of State Judicial Nominees: Significant Impact?

In 2013, Kansas changed its Court of Appeals selection process to include state senate confirmation of the governor's nominee--a reform that may have just had a significant impact.

On March 15, 2019, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, a Democrat, nominated District Judge Jeffry Jack to the Court of Appeals. However, a few days later, Gov. Kelly withdrew her nomination after tweets surfaced that showed Judge Jack "voicing his disdain for conservative leaders and Republican lawmakers in sometimes coarse, profane language" according to the Kansas City Star, which reports they "sometimes include F-bombs."

The Star also notes "In a statement regarding her appointment of the judge, Kelly said Jack was chosen from a list of finalists recommended by a committee of lawyers and non-lawyers, and that the choice was based on merit."

In nominating Judge Jack, Governor Kelly said: “Because I value transparency and the judicial merit-selection process, one of my first acts after my election was to create a committee of knowledgeable lawyers and non-lawyers to recommend finalists for the Court of Appeals vacancy...That committee ensured that our next Court of Appeals judge would be selected through an open process based on merit, and I thank the members of nominating committee for their work.”

Under the headline "After Judge Jack fiasco, legislators call for more oversight of court nominations", the Kansas City Star notes that: "One day after Gov. Laura Kelly withdrew his nomination to the state Court of Appeals, Republican lawmakers are pushing to remove Judge Jeffry Jack from his seat on the 11th District Court, and to mandate Senate confirmation of Supreme Court judges."

The Kansas Supreme Court is now chosen through a nominating commission, most of which is selected by the bar. The commission gives three names to the governor, who chooses the final candidate, without senate confirmation.