To The Sun:
Last week, I joined eight others in the Kansas Judicial Center in Topeka to interview 19 extremely talented lawyers and judges for an open seat on the Kansas Supreme Court. After two days of public interviews, and weeks of research into these candidates, my fellow commission members and I voted on three names for our governor to consider for appointment as the next Kansas Supreme Court justice.
I’m not an attorney. I knew very little about the Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission before applying. I’m just a regular Kansan, active in my community, who wanted to add my perspective as a rural mother of three to these decision-makers. It is my honor and privilege to serve on this commission, and I’d like to provide insight into the process for selecting judges to our state’s highest court.
First, I can honestly report that this is a truly non-partisan commission as our Kansas Constitution intended. We amicably discussed sports, families and travel during our time together but never politics. K.S.A. 20-133 dictates that we “should not consider race, religion, sex, disability that does not affect performance of the essential duties of a judge, or political affiliation of a potential nominee,” and I can assure you that every member on the commission took this directive very seriously.
Second, commission members are not appointed in a partisan manner. Attorneys from each of the state’s four congressional districts choose one lawyer to serve on the commission, and one lawyer is elected by attorneys statewide to serve as the commission chair. Four additional non-attorney members are appointed by the governor to represent “everyday Kansans” from each of our congressional districts. I’m the only member appointed by our current governor; Brownback appointed the other three non-attorney members. Each commission member serves a four-year term.
Why did our constitution dictate that attorneys serve as five out of the nine commission members? The evaluation process contains a hefty amount of legal analysis. Each applicant seeking a position on our state’s highest court submitted a 40-question application, reference letters and legal writing samples. I can evaluate an applicant’s temperament, community service, references and writing, but I relied on my attorney colleagues to provide further insight on whether the letter of the law was followed in every case related to an applicant’s career. In addition, as practicing attorneys, these members could also provide deeper analysis into an applicant’s intellect, legal abilities and level of respect from colleagues.
There are always people seeking to inflame, rather than inform, public opinion about judicial selection. My first-hand experience with the process, however, makes me believe our current non-partisan, merit-based system is a good one. The current statute also provides direct accountability to the public, requiring newly appointed justices to seek retention after one year in a general election.
We already rank last in judicial pay among state Supreme Court justices. Adding more political fights to this process will only reduce the quality and quantity of applicants willing to step up and serve our state in this very important position. — FRANCES GRAVES, Bartlett