KANSAS CITY, KS (August 31, 2010) Four Kansas voters filed suit in federal court on Thursday to block the state's system of appointing justices of the Kansas Supreme Court.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, claims that the nomination process violates the rights of Kansas voters by giving attorneys "enormous influence" over the selection of judges relative to other citizens.
Under the system, the nine-member Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission selects three nominees for the Supreme Court and state appeals courts. The governor then appoints one of the nominees to the open judicial seat. Five of the nine members of the nominating commission are selected through a vote by the state's attorneys. The governor appoints the remaining four.
"The current system thus guarantees lawyers a far greater say that ordinary citizens in Kansas in selecting judges who have great power and control over the lives of regular citizens," the James Madison Center For Free Speech said in a press release. The nonprofit organization is based in Washington.
The center's James Bopp Jr., who represents the plaintiffs, said that the nominating commission process is not unusual among the states. However, Kansas is the only state in which attorneys select the majority of nominating commissioners.
"Democracy is at stake," Bopp said. "The Constitution guarantees that all voters get to vote for public officials. In Kansas, we have only attorneys deciding who the judges will be."
The suit follows the resignation on Aug. 3 of Chief Supreme Court Justice Robert Davis, who died the following day. The nominating commission has until Oct. 3 to submit nominations for Davis' seat.
The suit asks the court to find the nomination process unconstitutional. It names as defendants Kansas Supreme Court Clerk Carol Gilliam Green, nomination commission chairwoman Anne Burke and the five attorney-elected members of the commission.