Wagle’s hidden motive to complaint is to supplant the process
A nine-member commission that nominates candidates for the Kansas Supreme Court followed the letter of the law, a Sedgwick County district judge ruled last week.
That’s disappointing news for Susan Wagle, president of the Kansas Senate.
Wagle, R-Wichita, had filed a complaint with the state attorney general’s office, alleging the commission had violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act when it met in mid-October.
Not so, ruled the judge, who explained that procedures and votes taken to replace the retiring Justice Lee A. Johnson are readily available to the public.
Even so, as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, Wagle reached her objective of making headlines.
In fact, we doubt her interest in the case’s outcome. Instead, it seems her objective all along was to weaken trust in the long-held tradition of a non-partisan committee that decides on three nominees for the state Supreme Court from which the governor makes the ultimate decision.
Instead, Wagle would like the Senate to filter the nominees as well as have veto power over the governor’s decision.
When ultra-conservatives held a tighter grip under Gov. Sam Brownback’s tenure, the law was changed in 2013 to give the governor the power to nominate candidates for the Kansas Court of Appeals with final approval by the Kansas Senate.
The same measure failed to garner enough support in 2016 for appointments to the high court, most likely because it would require a constitutional amendment.
IN OCTOBER, members of the Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission reviewed the 19 candidates in an open meeting setting. Records from the meeting are available through the clerk of the state’s appellate courts in Topeka, including how individual members voted.
The nominating commission is made up of five attorneys and four non-attorneys who serve four-year terms.
From our neck of the woods is Frances Graves of Bartlett, a small berg in Labette County, who recently spoke of the experience before the Parsons Rotary Club.
In a report by the Parsons Sun, Graves said the candidates were all lawyers and judges who were “really wonderful people, highly qualified.” Of the nominees, eight were women and 11 men. Most came from metropolitan areas.
Graves said the nominating system for justices is merit-based and the process non-partisan. Politics never came up in their discussions, Graves said, and the commission was collegial in its discussions.
“People can get along who come from different areas of influence,” Graves said.
After two days, the commission unanimously endorsed the nominations of Shawnee County District Judge Evelyn Wilson, Deputy Attorney General Dennis Depew, Neodesha, and Assistant Solicitor General Steven Obermeier of Olathe.
Clearly frustrated by such positive reports, Wagle’s chief of staff Chase Blasi complained the $10 processing fee to view such records is undemocratic.
“One day, a local government may decide a tax increase is OK by secret ballot, then I have to go pay a fee to find out if my councilman supported it,” he wrote.
By law, all votes by elected officials must be conducted in the open.
THE UNDERBELLY of Wagle’s objective is that ultra-conservatives aligned with Kansans for Life are opposed to the appointment of Shawnee County’s Judge Wilson because her husband has contributed to the campaigns of Gov. Laura Kelly and other candidates who have supported abortion rights.
For Allen Countians, we’ve done this dance before.
The very same people targeted the nomination of Iolan David Toland for Kansas Secretary of Commerce, alleging that in his role as CEO of Thrive Allen County he endorsed abortion. The short story is that Thrive helped secure grants to reduce the smoking rate among pregnant women as well as reduce premature and low birth-weight babies. Part of the funding for those efforts came by way of the George Tiller Foundation, named after Dr. Tiller, a physician who performed abortions and was gunned down in 2009 while attending church.
To make such a connection last spring to Toland and now to Judge Wilson shows the depths some groups will go to find — or without evidence, simply suggest — some thread of information that could unravel the futures of qualified nominees.
That we’re not surprised, shows we’re learning the steps.
— Susan Lynn