The Kansas Senate overwhelmingly confirmed Wednesday the governor's nominee to the Kansas Court of Appeals and narrowly approved a procedural maneuver to raise the profile of a proposed constitutional amendment to require Senate oversight of selections to the state Supreme Court.
Gov. Laura Kelly said she appreciated the Senate's swift approval of Johnson County attorney Sarah Warner to a vacancy on the state's second-highest court.
"I’m proud that she will be the first judge seated during my administration," Kelly said. "She embodies the hard work and optimism of Kansans and brings a unique intellect and experience to the Court of Appeals."
Warner was the replacement pick after the Democratic governor joined Republicans in denouncing her first selection, Labette County District Court Judge Jeffry Jack, who was shown to have posted caustic opinions on public policy and politicians to Twitter.
The Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed Warner's nomination and the Senate responded with a 37-1 vote in support of her on the 2019 session's final day.
"You are well qualified for this position on the Court of Appeals, and Kansas will be better off with you part of the court system," said Sen. Randall Hardy, R-Salina.
Meanwhile, the Senate backed a motion by Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, to draw out of a committee and to the Senate floor a resolution that would alter the Kansas Constitution to mandate Senate oversight of selections to the Kansas Supreme Court. Currently, a panel recommends three finalists and governors make a unilateral selection of each new justice.
Masterson won support of colleagues to bring the resolution to the Senate floor, but he declined to compel an immediate debate on the proposed amendment. It would need to clear the House and Senate with two-thirds majorities before placed on a statewide ballot, and it was clear neither chamber was prepared to consider the constitutional question.
He said Kelly's failed nomination of Jack and a recent decision on abortion by the Kansas Supreme Court provided evidence of the need for constitutional reform.
"This critical reform would give the people of Kansas input into the selection of the seven judges who sit on the Kansas Supreme Court via their elected representatives," Masterson said.
Sen. Vic Miller, D-Topeka, raised concerns about Masterson's resolution Tuesday during the committee hearing to evaluate the merits of Warner, the governor's pick for appeals court position.
Miller wanted to know why the committee didn't hold hearings on the resolution favored by Masterson, and why the matter couldn't wait until the 2020 legislative session in January, when the panel could have hearings on the issue.
"Is there any reason we were prevented from having hearings on that — discussing, debating and acting on that this year?" Miller said.
Sen. Rick Wilborn, a Republican from McPherson and chairman of the judiciary committee, said the resolution was introduced late in the session and there wasn't enough time to consider it.
"I will be very candid," Wilborn said. "I did not even evaluate the resolution at all."