Brownback To Sign Judicial Reform Legislation, Dems. React Calling It “Court Packing” Agenda

gavel court

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback will sign House Bill 2019 during a signing ceremony Wednesday, March 27th at 10:30 a.m. in the Governor’s Ceremonial Office, Room 241-S in the Capitol. 

HB 2019 amends the current process for appointing judges to the Kansas Court of Appeals to allow the governor to appoint a qualified person to fill any vacancy of the Appeals Court.  The bill requires the clerk of the Kansas Supreme Court to give prompt notice of a vacancy to the governor, who must then make an appointment within 60 days.  

If the governor does not make the appointment within 60 days, the chief justice of the Supreme Court will appoint a qualified person for the position.

The bill requires the Senate vote to confirm the appointment within 60 days of being received.  If the Senate is not in session and will not be in session within the 60-day time limit, it must approve the appointment within 20 days of the next session.  If the Senate fails to vote within the time limit, its consent will be deemed given.  If the appointee does not receive a majority vote in the Senate, the governor would appoint another qualified person within 60 days, and the same consent procedure would be followed.

The bill also creates the 14th Court of Appeals position on July 1, 2013.


House Democratic Leader Paul Davis Response:

During the 2013 session, much attention has been given to the state’s judicial process.  Gov. Brownback has called for dismantling the current Nominating Commission for selecting Supreme Court justices and placing this authority solely with himself. He also announced just today that tomorrow he will sign legislation giving himself more power over the process of selecting Court of Appeals judges. 

While legislative focus has primarily been given to this attempt to hijack an independent process in favor of a political one, another “court packing” scheme by the Brownback administration has been given little notice.

The Legislature is poised to approve legislation being pushed by the Department of Labor that will change the way workers compensation judges are selected and place the appointment of these judges in the hands of corporate and insurance company interests.

Under the current process, a committee of one representative each from business and labor review the qualifications of applicants for work comp administrative law judges and the Workers Comp Court of Appeals.  The two sides come to agreement on a candidate and sends to the Secretary of Labor for appointment. The process has removed political influences, created consistency and has produced fair and impartial judges.

Regrettably, the Governor’s administration is asking legislators to change this balanced process that has worked well for 20 years and place the selection of these judges under and subordinate to political influences. Senate Bill 187 creates a seven member nominating committee where corporate interests and workers comp insurance carriers will always have a super-majority on the committee.

The very essence of the judicial process is impartiality. Business and insurance carriers are litigants in the system and have a vested interest in the outcome. Allowing these interests to hand select the judges makes a mockery of the system with judges always looking over their shoulders in deciding cases or risk angering those who control their employment.

The integrity of the judicial process must be preserved for everyone. This newest court packing scheme by the Governor simply does not do that. This legislation not only places the fox in the hen house, but the chickens are outnumbered.