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State of Kansas

Judicial Selection in the States: Kansas

Overview

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The Kansas judiciary is composed of three levels of general jurisdiction courts---the supreme court, the court of appeals, and the district court. Kansas has a bifurcated system of judicial selection, in which appellate court judges are chosen through merit selection and district court judges are chosen through merit selection or partisan election, at the option of each district.

Kansas was first admitted to the Union in 1861, at a time when elected judiciaries were the norm. However, dissatisfaction with the close interplay between political parties and judicial selection led to a series of reform efforts to transform judicial selection into a nonpartisan process. These efforts succeeded in 1958, when Kansas voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing merit selection of supreme court justices. The amendment's success can be attributed to the intensive lobbying efforts of the Kansas Bar Association and the political scandal aptly titled the "triple play of 1956," in which the governor and chief justice resigned their positions with the understanding that the lieutenant governor--who would become the governor--would appoint the former governor as chief justice. 

The merit plan for supreme court justices was later extended to the court of appeals and the district court, with individual districts having the option to move to merit selection or maintain partisan elections. The majority of judicial districts in Kansas have chosen merit selection.

In 2013, the Kansas legislature voted to replace merit selection for the Court of Appeals with a system of gubernatorial appointment and senate confirmation. Governor Brownback signed the bill into law on March 27, 2013.