A proposed Kansas constitutional amendment changing the appointment process for Court of Appeals judges and Kansas Supreme Court justices made it to the House floor Thursday, and drew sharp criticism from State Rep. Sydney Carlin in the process.
“I’m never in favor of amending the constitution,” Carlin said. “It has served us so well, and I haven’t seen anything we couldn’t manage through our laws.”
The proposed amendment would allow the governor to appoint members to those two bodies, subject to approval by the Senate. It would replace the current system, which allows the governor to appoint one of three candidates nominated by a panel consisting of attorneys and private citizens.
Carlin said her first reason for opposing the amendment stems from the process. To amend the Kansas Constitution, the amendment must receive two-thirds votes in both the House and Senate, followed by a simple majority vote at a general election, presumably the November 2014 ballot. That would not be so bad, Carlin said, except that voters usually do not find out about the amendment until they are in the voting booth. She said that “slows down the election process” and creates longer lines at the polls.
The second reason she opposes the amendment is because the current practice was itself established by an amendment. That occurred in 1958, after former Gov. Fred Hill manipulated the former appointment system to his advantage.
In 1956, Hill had lost in the Republican primary. Later that year a Supreme Court justice described by former state historian Homer Socolofsky as “friendly to Hall” resigned.
In the last days of his administration, Hall resigned the governorship, enabling his lieutenant governor and successor for a week, John McCuish, to appoint Hall to the Supreme Court vacancy.
Carlin said the voting public was outraged by Hall’s political maneuvering, and as a result, passed the amendment that defines the current process of judicial appointments.
Carlin said the governor’s role in the current process gives him more than enough power over the judicial system.
She also contended the court system needs to remain independent of the influence of the governor because that independence “balances” the state’s legislative and executive powers.
She said the change proposed in the amendment would allow the governor to have more control over the courts.