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SPOTLIGHT
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Justice denied

Published on -1/4/2013, 9:32 AM

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When the chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court addressed a joint session of the Legislature one year ago, it was to apprise lawmakers of the state of the judiciary.

The Honorable Lawton Nuss used a farming metaphor to underscore the changing times facing Kansas courts. The chief justice also took the liberty of pleading with those who control the state's purse strings to fully fund current and potential technology projects -- as well as allow managerial flexibility to place personnel where the biggest caseloads are located.

Nuss will have no such opportunity this legislative season. His request to speak inside the chamber was turned down by House Speaker Ray Merrick.

"It's just another thing to take up time," Merrick said. "I just think it's time that could be put to better use on other things."

Speaker Merrick instead wants Nuss' report in writing.

We find Merrick's rationale a tad disingenuous. While most legislative sessions tend to take the full 90 days -- and then some -- the 2013 session should not. Conservative Republican super-majorities exist in both houses, ready to accept whatever new experiment is rolled down the hall from the governor's office. Debate and the art of compromise will be relics of the past, nostalgically noted like broken wagon wheels on the side of the superhighway known as the Roadmap for Kansas.

Time should not be in short supply for the Legislature ready to convene Jan. 14. More likely the real reason for denying the judicial branch's top official an audience is the governor's desire to transform the selection process of judges.

Currently, judicial appointments are made by the governor from three pre-screened candidates. A merit-based selection process is used to ensure all three potential appellate justices are quality nominees free from political influence.

Gov. Sam Brownback seeks the power to simply make appointments of his choosing that would be confirmed by the Legislature. A lawsuit even was filed last year claiming the panel of attorneys submitting names to the governor did not provide equal protection rights. The suit was dismissed, but we fully expect legislation to be introduced attempting to give the governor what he desires.

Perhaps such a bill already is written and enough votes have been whipped to make it happen. But until such a law not only is enacted but passes constitutional muster, the state of the judiciary should not be regarded as a waste of time.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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