Saturday, April 19, 2014

HAWVER: Covering up court pick transparency

By MARTIN HAWVER, At the Rail | 7/1/2013

Our new governor-all-by-himself selection of nominees to the Kansas Court of Appeals is getting more interesting.

It’s the new law Gov. Sam Brownback pushed for and autographed this spring that on Monday — July 1 — eliminated the role of the Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission in the winnowing of applicants for a seat on the state’s second-highest judicial body.

Our new governor-all-by-himself selection of nominees to the Kansas Court of Appeals is getting more interesting.

It’s the new law Gov. Sam Brownback pushed for and autographed this spring that on Monday — July 1 — eliminated the role of the Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission in the winnowing of applicants for a seat on the state’s second-highest judicial body.

The commission? Nine members, mostly lawyers (that’s objectionable to some, but do you want that cranky “Dancing with the Stars” judge involved?) who interview and sift through qualifications or experience or height or fashion sense or whatever of applicants and select three nominees to forward to the governor for his/her choice.

The commission still vets Supreme Court opening applicants, just not Court of Appeals applicants under the new law — the Appeals Court change only took a bill; a Supreme Court change would need a constitutional amendment. Brownback would like that, too.

Oh, yes, and those lawyers who under the old law applied for court jobs were publicly named, so anyone who cared knew who they were. Of course, we all learned who didn’t make it through the sieve that is the nominating commission. Not sure whether in lawyers’ newsletters they got asterisks next to their name to denote how many times they were rejected, or whether there was a tattoo involved.

And, there’s this hazy memory that some of us have, of the cheerleader turning us down for a prom date. Want that in the newspaper?

But, the now-gone system was transparent. Transparency has become a big deal recently. It essentially means that everyone should be able to know anything about everything. Sounds a little like democracy but it isn’t a perfect rhyme.

Brownback? He’s not interested in releasing the names of everyone who asks him for the job, whether by formal letter or maybe the guy in front of him at the supermarket checkout.

The governor figures that under the new law, it really doesn’t matter whether his choice has been vetted by people who actually know what an Appeals Court judge does because whoever he chooses has to be confirmed by the Kansas Senate. It will get one name, his favorite, and then we see whether the conservative Republican-controlled Senate agrees with its conservative Republican governor.

We’re going to see how this works probably later this month, when Brownback names his appointment to a new Kansas Court of Appeals seat — the 14th seat, so we’re figuring that one appointment isn’t going to shift the balance of the court.

But it might give us an opportunity to see whether this process works well, and whether most Kansans, who probably aren’t familiar with what an Appeals Court judge does anyway, have an objection.

Transparent? Probably not until the Senate starts looking through Brownback’s nominee’s Facebook page and Twitter postings, or maybe just driving by to see how he/she keeps up his/her yard. And we won’t know whom the $99,636-a-year governor turned down for the $131,518-a-year job on the court.

Transparency?  Not as good as the previous system, but the Supreme Court Nominating Commission never transparently released the weight of candidates for Appeals Court judgeships, did it?

Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report. Visit his website at www.hawvernews.com

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