- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas legislators aren’t going to end a decade-long debate over remaking the state Supreme Court until they put a ballot question on how the justices are selected before voters, Attorney General Derek Schmidt told Republican lawmakers Tuesday.

Schmidt’s remarks to a caucus of House Republicans kicked off their leaders’ attempts to build support this week for changing the selection process. GOP Gov. Sam Brownback and top Republican lawmakers view the current process as undemocratic.

Schmidt didn’t endorse a specific proposal Tuesday, but the House is scheduled to debate a measure Wednesday to give governors and legislators more control over Supreme Court appointments.

Changing the selection process requires amending the Kansas Constitution. A proposal would have to be adopted by two-thirds majorities in both chambers and then approved by a simple majority of voters in a statewide election. While Republicans have legislative supermajorities, Democrats and GOP moderates have had enough votes to block any proposals.

“This is an issue that’s not going away until Kansas voters decide it,” Schmidt told the House GOP caucus.

But it wasn’t clear Tuesday whether GOP leaders could persuade moderate Republicans, who have resisted altering their positions. Rep. Don Hineman, a GOP moderate from Dighton, said he’s still most concerned with preserving the judiciary’s independence.

“Nothing I heard today changes my view on that issue,” Hineman said.

Democrats also don’t appear likely to bend either, casting the push for change as an attempt by Brownback and his allies to gain control of the courts.

“I think the people of Kansas recognize it for what it is,” said House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, a Kansas City Democrat.

A nominating commission currently screens applicants for state Supreme Court vacancies and names three finalists. The governor must pick one, and there is no state Senate confirmation or other role for legislators. Five of the commission’s nine members are attorneys elected by other attorneys, including its chairwoman; about 2,500 lawyers voted in the elections in 2014.

The proposal to be debated Wednesday by the House would abolish the nominating commission. The governor would appoint the justices, subject to Senate confirmation. The House Judiciary Committee approved it last year, making debate by the full chamber possible. House GOP leaders expect a final vote Thursday; the House’s approval would send the measure to the Senate.

House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, a Louisburg Republican, said the goal is to wrest control of the selection process from a small group of attorneys.

“Decisions by our Supreme Court have far-reaching effects in the lives of Kansans, and we need a court that is selected by a democratic process,” Vickrey said.

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Online:

Judicial selection proposal before the House: https://bit.ly/1AjdSHk .

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .


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