- Associated Press - Thursday, February 4, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas House rejected a proposal Thursday that would give the governor and legislators more control over appointments to the state Supreme Court.

The vote on a proposed amendment to the state constitution was 68-54, but supporters were 16 votes short of the two-thirds majority of 84 needed for passage in the 125-member chamber.

The state’s high court judges are chosen by five attorneys and four public members selected by the governor. The nonpartisan committee then chooses three finalists, with the governor making the final selection. A proposed constitutional amendment would have changed the system so that the governor would nominate justices, who would then be approved for the court by a majority of the Senate.

The current judicial selection system arose after a political scandal in 1957, when incumbent Gov. Fred Hall was defeated in the Republican primaries and later resigned. The lieutenant governor then appointed Hall to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat. That move was the catalyst in changing the elections process to avoid favoritism.

Gov. Sam Brownback and other GOP conservatives argue that the process isn’t democratic, but supporters of the current system accuse the Republican and his allies of trying to control the state’s courts.

Republican Rep. Mario Goico of Wichita was one of several House members who spoke in favor of the bill Thursday, citing his disapproval with several of the high court’s rulings. He referenced the state Supreme Court’s decision to overturn death sentences for brothers Jonathan and Reginald Carr for the killings of four people in Wichita in December 2000. The Kansas Supreme Court in 2014 ruled the lower court decision to sentence the men to death was unconstitutional, but the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the state high court’s decision last month.

Goico called the decision the “embarrassment of the U.S. Supreme Court declaring the Kansas Supreme Court inept over the Carr brothers decision.”

“I think that the process that we have now needs to be reassessed,” he said.

Several of the House members who provided written and spoken testimony in opposition to the bill rejected the federal model of judicial selection. Republican Rep. Don Schroeder of Hesston said his opposition goes back to justices’ decisions that “imposed and repeatedly upheld Roe v. Wade and gay marriage on the people of Kansas.”

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