By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
OSAWATOMIE — With the nomination of Caleb Stegall for the Kansas Court of Appeals, Gov. Sam Brownback has closed one chapter and opened another in the saga surrounding judicial selection in the Sunflower State.
Stegall, the governor’s chief legal counsel, will face confirmation by the Kansas Senate during a Sept. 3 hearing as part of the upcoming special session. His nomination comes as little surprise to many, and was reported more than a month ago – and denied by Brownback staffers – by WIBW News.
Brownback spoke highly of Stegall during a news conference announcing the nomination Tuesday morning.
“If confirmed, Caleb will be one of the most, if not the most, qualified person to go on the Kansas Court of Appeals over the past decade,” Brownback said. “Caleb’s history of academic accomplishment, broad private sector experience and success, commitment to public service, temperament, character and peer support is without equal.”
Brownback cites letters of recommendation from Democrats like former state attorney general Steve Six as evidence of bipartisan support. Brownback also said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, has previously voiced support for Stegall’s qualifications.
However, following the announcement Davis released comments to the contrary.
“The Kansas judiciary should be a pillar of independence and transparency, not a parking lot for Gov. Brownback’s well-connected, partisan pals,” Davis said in a news release.
Davis did not respond to calls for further comment from Kansas Watchdog.
But while lawmakers and talking heads launch themselves into the debate about whether this is the right or wrong choice for the state, political observers say the reality is much different for most Kansas residents.
“It’s driven by politics, I don’t think your average Kansan knows or cares a bit about how we get judges,” said Steve Cann, political science professor at Washburn University in Topeka. “There’s no public interest in this.”
Cann and fellow Washburn political science professor Mark Peterson are both personal advocates of Kansas’ previous selection by which appellate judges were narrowed via nominating committee in an attempt to keep politics out. But Peterson previously told Kansas Watchdog that the public itself is a weakness with that method.
“It’s insider baseball. The public has to respond after the fact, and the public’s got to pay attention,” Peterson said. “At least one thing you can say, in favor of the proposed system, a bad judge is going to reflect badly on the party in power that appointed that individual to that position.”
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