Keeping Judicial Selection a Lawyer-Dominated Game in Kansas

November 13, 2012


Wichita attorney F. James, Robinson, Jr. has an op-ed opposing calls in the Kansas Legislature to reform the way judges are selected in the state by reducing the power of legal special interest groups.  According to Robinson, “if those who select our judges are knowledgeable and insulated from partisan politics … they will choose good judges.”  So who does he think is “knowledgeable” enough to pick judges?  Well, other lawyers like himself who have “special knowledge” about what makes a good judge.

Under the state’s current “merit” selection system, the 9-member nominating commission is comprised of 5 attorneys chosen by other attorneys and 4 non-lawyers appointed by the governor.  In other words, by law, legal elites in Kansas control the judicial selection process.

Robinson contrasts the Kansas system with the federal system, where the president is a “commission of one” and “Senate confirmation serves as an important check on the president’s power.”  But under the “merit” selection system Robinson praises, who exactly serves as a check on the commission’s power?  The answer, of course, is no one.  In both the federal system and judicial elections, the politics of judicial selection is out in the open.  Under “merit” selection, politics is not removed from the process; it is merely hidden behind closed doors.

The undemocratic notion that people with “special knowledge” deserve a privileged place in picking our public servants on the bench would have shocked our nation’s Founders.  They believed in a democracy in which judges – like every other public servant – must be accountable in some way to the people.  While many of them were attorneys themselves, unlike Mr. Robinson, they never believed their vote should count more than any other voter’s.

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