A bipartisan pair of legislators is sponsoring a bill to rollback changes to judicial nominations adopted last year.

Sponsored by Democratic Rep. Dennis Highberger and Republican Rep. Steven Becker, House Bill 2245 would allow the Kansas judicial nominating commission to meet in executive session and allow the names of the lawyers who elect the nominating commission to remain a secret. A hearing on the bill is set for Feb. 15.

The judicial nominating commission recommends three judicial candidates to the Governor. From those candidates, the Governor nominates a judge to fill a Kansas Supreme Court vacancy. Currently, members of the Kansas Bar Association, an organization of lawyers, elect five members of the judicial nomination commission. One member resides in each of Kansas’ four Congressional districts, and a fifth member is elected at-large. The Governor appoints four members of the nomination commission.

The public can find out how many lawyers are casting ballots in elections for nominating commission members. The law does not require disclosure of how the lawyers voted, but it requires tracking who voted and how often they vote in those elections, similar to how voter histories for regular elections are trackable.

Testimony

Clay Barker, a lawyer and the executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, will submit written testimony opposing changes to the current law.

“The changes enacted by previous legislatures opened the judicial selection process to public view and scrutiny. It also sought to counter the ill effects caused by the low-turnout of lawyers to vote for members of the judicial nominating commission,” Barker said.

The nominating commission is responsible for helping select the most powerful part of one-third of Kansas’ three branches of government. 

“Who voted was a state secret – the most important election in Kansas where who voted was not made public record,” Barker said.

The bill’s sponsors are both legal professionals. Highberger is a Lawrence attorney, and Becker is a retired District Court Judge from Buhler. Becker did not return a phone call for seeking comment on the bill.

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