Despite countless pleas to do otherwise, Gov. Sam Brownback simply won't reveal the names of any applicants vying for the vacancy on the Kansas Court of Appeals. He claims confidentiality is the only way to amass a strong pool of candidates.
"It is clear that disclosing the names of potential nominees would hurt applicant pools for future selections and this is why the American Bar Association recommends this method of selection and why the federal judicial selection process follows this same path," the governor offered in a press release.
While this assertion might have shut down the debate, it didn't stifle the criticism coming from all corners of the state. Which led Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King, a conservative Republican from Independence, to say: "This is more of a concern about the person making the appointments than the selection process."
In all deference to King, we have issues with both.
First of all, Gov. Brownback has not inspired confidence with some of his appointments to date. Compliance with philosophy appears to be a stronger qualification than expertise or experience.
It isn't difficult to recall that earlier this year, Brownback's budget director owned up to a $2 billion mistake. Steve Anderson, the primary budget analyst who also monitors the state's cash flow, couldn't spot mathematical inaccuracies on a spreadsheet that Brownback used for months to tout his administration's success. It wasn't until the Wichita Eagle challenged the governor's claim that Brownback stopped boasting he was the first governor to decrease spending in 40 years. Anderson remains gainfully employed.
It's only been 18 months since Rob Siedlecki left his appointed post as secretary of Social and Rehabilitative Services. Siedlecki didn't even work there an entire year, yet had time to toss out hundreds of mid-level managers, create a number of new top executives, close offices in multiple cities, initiate faith-based programs, assert that poor Kansans would rather receive assistance than work, and effectively dismantle the entire SRS.
There also was Jim Mann, whose tenure as the state's chief information technology officer didn't last a day. Hired at $150,000, Mann had the governor's support but no answer for his fraudulent education background on his resume.
Brownback also assembled an entire School Efficiency Task Force utilizing only one person with either teaching or school administrative experience.
As for the appellate court selection process, it also is flawed. While many states did adopt the federal model of having the executive appoint judges, most began adopting different methods -- in the early 1800s. And the American Bar Association does not recommend executive appointment. Rather, the ABA favors merit selection -- and has since 1937. In its own literature, the ABA states: "While any method of judicial selection may have flaws, it is the belief of the ABA, the American Judicature Society, and many legal experts and scholars across the nation that some form of merit selection should be used in every state."
Kansans will never know how qualified the pool of applicants will be for the Court of Appeals. Citizens only will discover the one person Brownback selected. The appointee will be confirmed by the Kansas Senate, which has been winnowed to a solid conservative majority after the governor helped defeat moderates from his own party.
In short, we would expect the new appellate judge to share the governor's perspectives on school finance, taxation, abortion, gay marriage, intelligent design, drug testing government assistance recipients, fetal stem cell research, state rights and euthanasia.
It's just another step for Brownback to assume complete control of the state. Legislators either will amend the constitution to allow the same selection process for the Kansas Supreme Court, or they'll simply remove the high court's authority to hear appeals. Lawmakers also plan to abolish both the Board of Regents and the State Board of Education, replacing them with a secretary of education who will be appointed by the governor.
Checks and balances? It appears Kansans don't care.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry