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Nominating panel's end in sight

We have just seen the start of a dramatic change in the independence of the state's three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial.

That change started with the takeover of the Kansas Senate (legislative branch) by very conservative lawmakers who were swept into office at the primary election and confirmed by the results of the general election.

That tipping point was followed up by the action of the Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission last week.

That action? It was to leave the iconic conservatives out of the group of three nominees from which Gov. Sam Brownback will choose the successor to fill the slot on the Kansas Court of Appeals caused by the upcoming retirement of Judge Chrystal Marquardt.

The potential nominees who make conservatives' legs tingle were former State Rep. Anthony Powell, R-Wichita, who is now a Sedgwick County District Court judge, and Caleb Stegall, a former Jefferson County Attorney who grew up to be Brownback's chief legal counsel.

Those two applicants are out of the mix, and it's clear that the lawyer-heavy Supreme Court Nominating Commission -- which Brownback wants taken out of the process of selecting nominees to the state's second highest court -- is seeing its last days.

Including either Powell or Stegall in the list of names forwarded to Brownback might have taken some of the conservative legislative pressure off of the nominating commission. But it's unlikely that would extend the commission's life.

So, it appears, that the nominating commission -- which soon will nominate to Brownback candidates to fill the vacancy on the Appeals Court caused by the Oct. 7 death of Chief Judge Richard Greene -- is likely to find three relatively socially and legally moderate candidates to send to Brownback. It's the point that if the nominating commission role is about to end, the panel likely will put all the moderate judges on the bench possible before it is pulled out of the process.

Remember, two years ago, Brownback campaigned on taking the nominating commission out of the Appeals Court process, letting him select his own judges, subject to Senate confirmation. The bill passed the House, and the moderate Senate didn't consider it.

This time around, look for the Senate to pass that bill, and if the Senate passes the bill, there's little reason to believe it would reject any candidate Brownback wants the Senate to confirm. That's if the House with about 50 new members is still on board with the bill.

(The Kansas Supreme Court? The state constitution requires the nominating panel procedure; it will take a constitutional amendment approved by two-thirds of the House and Senate to send to Kansas voters the proposed amendment to let the governor name his/her own Supreme Court justices.)

So, we could have a governor essentially controlling membership on the court and the Legislature likely going along with him/her.

We'll just have to wait to see whether Brownback proposes early retirement buyouts for judges.

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report. To learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit www.hawvernews.com.