Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed House Bill 2019 into law Wednesday during a signing ceremony at the Kansas Capitol. The new law reforms how judges for the Kansas Court of Appeals are appointed.
"The guiding principle of our American democracy must be that every citizen stands equal before the law, with an equal voice in this long running American experiment in self-government," Gov. Brownback said. "Kansans expect and are entitled to a government that is not beholden to any special interest group. Unfortunately in Kansas, our current system of selecting our appellate judges fails the democracy test."
Brownback continued, "Rather than providing an equal voice to all Kansans in the selection of our Appeals and Supreme Court judges, Kansas is the only state in the union that allows a special interest group -- to control the process of choosing who will be judges for the rest of us."
Currently, Appeals Court judges are nominated by the Supreme Court Nominating Commission which is made five members elected by the Kansas Bar, and four members appointed by the governor.
HB 2019 allows the governor to appoint a qualified person to fill any vacancy of the Appeals Court who is subject to approval by the Kansas Senate. Known as the federal process, this procedure is similar to how justices for the United States Supreme Court are appointed.
"This is not about controlling judges. 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," Brownback said. "I want to thank the Kansas Legislature for taking this important step towards reforming our system of judicial selection and restoring public confidence in our judiciary. We must give all Kansans an equal voice, whether directly or indirectly through elected representatives, in choosing our judicial leaders."
House Speaker Ray Merrick, and Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce as well as Senators Steve Fizgerald, Mitch Holmes, Julia Lynn and Greg Smith and Representatives Steve Brunk, Willie Dove, Keith Esau, Shanti Gandhi, Jerry Lunn, Mark Kahrs, Charles Macheers, Allan Rothilsberg, John Rubin, and Troy Waymaster were among those who joined the Governor for the bill signing. Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Court of Appeals Judge Tony Powell also attended the bill signing.
This is the first bill signed into law by the Governor during the 2013 Legislative Session.
How HB 2019 works: The new law requires the clerk of the Kansas Supreme Court 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 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.
The bill also creates the 14th Court of Appeals position on July 1, 2013.