Kansas will have a proposition on the November ballot that could send shock waves into the tenure of state court judges. The voters in Kansas' Johnson County will vote on the right to elect their 10th judicial district court judges instead of having them chosen by the lawyers.
We hear a lot in the media about bringing democracy to the world. Citizens in this suburban Kansas City county are asking for more democracy in the middle of the United States.
How state judges get their jobs is a matter of state option, and there are a wide variety of rules.
Some state court judges are elected by the people, some in partisan elections, some in nonpartisan elections. About half the states, including Kansas, use some variation of the so-called Missouri Plan, a process that originated in the 1940s, which gives broad control to licensed attorneys.
Missouri voters are unhappy with their Missouri Plan because lawyers have successfully placed on the bench a succession of liberal judges, and it could be six years before a Republican has a chance to be appointed to the state Supreme Court. In April, the lawyers successfully lobbied against the Missouri state legislature's attempt to reform the process.
Kansas gives its licensed lawyers an unusually powerful role in the selection of state Supreme Court justices. Some voters are beginning to see a connection between that extraordinary control and the judges' widely criticized decision to order the state legislature to appropriate hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to public schools.
The appropriation of taxpayer funds, and the raising of taxes that this necessarily requires, should be a legislative, not judicial, function. The grabbing of spending and taxing powers by courts is a major reason why we call these judges supremacists.
Under the Kansas procedure, when there is a vacancy on the Kansas Supreme Court, a nominating commission (on which the attorneys enjoy a 5-to-4 majority) secretly chooses its three favorites, and the governor must pick one of the three. That's the whole process: no checking, no appeal, no oversight, no second opinion.
This plan is supposed to result in the "nonpartisan" and "merit" selection of judges, but scholars who have studied the process have concluded that the commission selects judges based on the socio-economic interests of the attorneys and their clients.
Attorneys are a special-interest group just like any other group that aggressively lobbies for the interests of its members. In Kansas, the commission has had no shame about selecting judges who make political contributions to Democratic candidates.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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