Judicial selection in Kansas

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Judicial selection in the states
Judicial selection in Kansas
Seal of Kansas.png
Kansas Supreme Court
Method:   Assisted appointment
Term:   6 years
Kansas Court of Appeals
Method:   Gov. appt. with senate confirmation
Term:   4 years
Kansas District Courts
Method:   Assisted appointment or partisan elections
Term:   4 years

Selection of state court judges in Kansas occurs largely through gubernatorial appointment, paired with either assisted appointment or senate confirmation depending on the level of the court. Several district courts also utilize partisan elections.[1]

Judges chosen through political appointment must run in yes-no retention elections if they wish to serve subsequent terms; judges chosen in partisan elections must run for re-election to continue serving.[1] For more information on these elections, visit Judgepedia's Kansas judicial elections page.

Retained and re-elected judges' terms begin on the second Monday in January following the general election.[1]

Supreme Court

See also: Assisted appointment

There are seven justices on the Kansas Supreme Court, each selected by the governor from a list submitted by the judicial nominating commission. Newly appointed judges serve for at least one year, after which they must run for retention in the next general election. Subsequent terms last for six years.[1]

The court's chief justice is chosen by seniority; he or she is the longest-serving justice on the court and serves as chief indefinitely.[1]


To serve on this court, a judge must:

  • have at least 10 years of active and continuous law practice in the state;
  • be at least thirty years old; and
  • be no older than 70. If a sitting judge turns 70 while on the bench, he or she may serve out the term.[1]

Court of Appeals

See also: Gubernatorial appointment of judges

The twelve judges of the Kansas Court of Appeals are, like the supreme court justices, appointed by the governor. Instead of being accountable to a nominating commission, however, the governor's nomination is subject to confirmation by the state senate. The nominating commission's role in the selection process was eliminated by legislation passed on March 27, 2013.[2] Newly appointed judges serve for at least one year, after which they must run in a retention election to serve a full four-year term.[1]

The chief judge of the court of appeals is selected by the state supreme court. Judicial qualifications for this court are identical to those of the supreme court.[1]

District Courts

See also: Assisted appointment and partisan elections


In seventeen of the districts, judges are chosen through the commission-selection, political appointment method. These judges stand for retention after their first year in office, and if retained they serve four-year terms.[3]

The districts that use a commission-based, political appointment system are:


In fourteen of the districts, judges are chosen in partisan elections. These judges serve four-year terms and run for re-election at the end of their terms.[1]

The districts with partisan elections are:

Altering selection methods

To adopt partisan elections as the judicial selection method, a petition signed by five percent of district voters must be submitted to the secretary of state. A proposition is then placed on the next general election, needing approval from over 50 percent of voters to pass.[4]


To serve on this court, a judge must be:

  • a state and district resident;
  • a member in good standing of the state bar for at least five years; and
  • under the age of 70. If a sitting judge turns 70 while on the bench, he or she may serve out the term.[1]

Municipal Court

See also: Assisted appointment

Judges of the Kansas Municipal Courts are directly appointed by the local district nominating commission. They serve four-year terms and must be reappointed if they wish to serve again.[5][6]


To serve on a municipal court, a judge must be:

  • a high school graduate;
  • a county resident; and
  • a lawyer admitted to practice in Kansas or certified by the state supreme court after passing an examination.[5]

Judicial nominating commissions

There are multiple nominating commissions in Kansas, one for the supreme court and one for each of the 17 judicial districts that employ merit selection.[7]

Supreme Court Nominating Commission

The Supreme Court Nominating Commission (SCNC) is responsible for assisting in filling judicial vacancies on the supreme court. The commission submits a list of qualified candidates to the governor, who appoints a new judge from that list.[7]

The SCNC consists of five lawyer members and four non-lawyer members – one lawyer and one non-lawyer from each congressional district and an additional lawyer to serve as chairperson. Lawyer members are elected by their congressional district peers; non-lawyer members are appointed by the governor. All commissioners serve four-year terms.[7]

District nominating commissions

The size and composition of each district's commission varies according to the number of counties in the district. Regardless of size, each commission must consist of an equal number of lawyers and non-lawyers, with a supreme court justice or district court judge from another district to serve as chairperson.[7]

Lawyer members are elected by their district peers; non-lawyer members are appointed by the board of county commissioners. Members serve for four years.[7]


Judicial selection in Kansas has undergone several changes in the last century. Below is a timeline noting the various stages, from the most recent to the earliest:

Criticism of the selection process

Stephen Ware is a law professor at the University of Kansas and a critic of the way judges are selected through the SCNC. In November 2007, he presented an academic report regarding what he saw as the flaws in the state judicial selection processes.[8]

Ware wrote:

Kansas is the only state in the union that gives the members of its bar majority control over the selection of state supreme court justices. The bar consequently may have more control over the judiciary in Kansas than in any other state.


—Stephen Ware

He proposed a series of reforms which he stated would "reduce the amount of control exercised by the bar and establish a more public system of checks and balances."

A summary of his objections:

  • When the SCNC chooses a slate of judges for the governor to make a final selection from, their votes are conducted in secret.
  • Although the SCNC is said to be nonpartisan, the historical record is that governors appoint to the commission members who are sympathetic to their political ideologies, often selecting commission members who are distinctly partisan.
  • From 1987 to 2007, governors appointed 22 people to the SCNC. In every case, when a governor appointed a member of the commission, that appointee was a member of the governor's own political party.
  • This has resulted in nominations of justices to the Kansas Supreme Court who are themselves partisan.[8]

Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis, Democrat, did not agree that major changes were necessary:

It obviously doesn’t hurt to have a discussion every so often, but I think this is an attempt is being made to fix a system that’s not broken.


—Paul Davis

2011 reform efforts

In 2011, the governor and legislature prioritized altering the state's method of judicial selection. A letter addressed to the "Freshman Conservative Class" of state Republican legislators outlined the goals of the party in January. The first objective listed was: "Kansas should change its judicial selection process to require legislative confirmation of judges or adopting election of judges statewide."[10]


Kansas State Capital

In March, the Kansas House of Representatives passed a bill that would eliminate the Supreme Court Nominating Commission. The legislative body instead wanted to embrace the federal model of judicial selection, where the executive appoints a judge to a vacancy and the senate confirms the judge.[11]

Though the house passed the bill, it never got a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The chairman said, "I think this is the first time I did not hear a bill because I thought it was so bad. This is a terrible, terrible bill that’s hated by the courts; it’s an attempt to take over control of the courts."[12]

The bill was supported by Governor Sam Brownback, who felt that bypassing the lawyer-controlled nominating commission would make the process more "open."[13]

Arguments in favor of the bill reflected the ideas outlined in Stephen Ware's critique.

Selection of federal judges

United States district court judges, who are selected from each state, go through a different selection process than that of state judges.

The district courts are served by Article III federal judges who are appointed for life, during "good behavior." They are usually first recommended by senators (or members of the House, occasionally). The President of the United States of America nominates judges, who must then be confirmed by the United States Senate in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution.[14]

Step ApprovedA Candidacy Proceeds DefeatedD Candidacy Halts
1. Recommendation made by Congress member to the President President nominates to Senate Judiciary Committee President declines nomination
2. Senate Judiciary Committee interviews candidate Sends candidate to Senate for confirmation Returns candidate to President, who may re-nominate to committee
3. Senate votes on candidate confirmation Candidate becomes federal judge Candidate does not receive judgeship

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: Kansas," archived October 2, 2014
  2. Legal Newsline, "Kansas Court of Appeals judges now picked by governor, with Senate confirmation," March 28, 2013 (timed out)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Kansas Judicial Branch, "Nominating Commissions," accessed July 22, 2014
  4. 4.0 4.1 American Judicature Society, "History of Reform Efforts: Kansas; Formal Changes Since Inception," archived October 2, 2014
  5. 5.0 5.1 American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: Kansas; Limited Jurisdiction Courts," archived October 2, 2014
  6. Washburn School of Law, "Attorney General Opinion No. 2002-28," June 13, 2002
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: Kansas; Judicial Nominating Commissions," archived January 13, 2012, 2014
  8. 8.0 8.1 RedReport, "KU law professor Stephen Ware on judicial selection in Kansas, where 10,000 people control 2.8 million," December 4, 2012
  9. 9.0 9.1 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  10. LJWorld, "Document passed around Capitol shows long list of conservative causes," January 12, 2011
  11. Kansas Reporter, "Judge seated as critics try to change nominating process," March 1
  12. Kansas Reporter, "New way of picking appeals judges gets second shot," March 23, 2011
  13. LJWorld, "Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback urges Senate action on bill aimed at judge selection process for state Court of Appeals," March 16, 2011
  14. US Courts, "FAQ: Federal Judges," accessed March 26, 2015
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