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Kan. governor signs Court of Appeals change bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday signed into law a measure that dramatically changes the way Kansas appoints Court of Appeals judges, removing the bar association's longstanding role screening candidates and giving himself the sole power to select the nominees who then must be confirmed by the Senate.

The measure foreshadows an even larger effort by the Republican governor to also change the way state Supreme Court justices are chosen, though that would require a constitutional amendment approved by voters.

"This is not about controlling judges," said Brownback, who is also a lawyer. "Judicial independence is vital and necessary for fair and just rulings from our courts. But judicial independence must rest firmly on the consent of the people. "

The Court of Appeals system being replaced has been criticized by Brownback and fellow Republicans who believe it puts too much power in the hands of the Kansas Bar Association and attorneys to screen nominees to the appellate courts. The governor must accept one of three names forwarded to him with no legislative oversight of the selection.

Brownback said the guiding principle behind the change was the belief that all citizens are equal in the democratic process, a principle he said was flawed by the nominating system that had been in place since the 1950s. He said the change would bring the process closer to the people because they directly elect the governor who will pick members of the court and senators who must confirm that choice.

"Kansans expect and are entitled to a government that is not beholden to any special interest group. Unfortunately in Kansas, our current system of selecting our appellate judges fails the democracy test."

Brownback wants Kansas to do away with the role of the nominating commission that also selects Supreme Court justices, which would require changing the Kansas Constitution. A measure to do that is stalled in the Legislature. Senators passed the proposed constitutional amendment early in the session but it has not been brought up for House debate, where 84 of the 125 members must give approval to put the issue before votes in August 2014.