“The independence of the courts from improper political influence
is a sacred principle. It must always be guarded.” - President Ronald Reagan
Keeping politics and corruption out of our Kansas courts
Today, the Legislature debated a controversial Constitutional amendment that would have dismantled the Kansas system of judicial selection and replaced it with the same system being used by President Obama with our federal courts.
Like many of you, I haven’t liked some of the recent decisions handed down by our state courts. They go against my long-held personal beliefs. Of course, in our system of government, the courts aren’t supposed to consider my personal beliefs. The courts are required to base their decisions upon the law and legal precedent, not Fred Patton’s personal opinions.
The days and weeks leading up to the debate today have been wrought with political games and threats. Many struggled under pressure from lobbyists to implement the federal system. To be sure, that level of pressure isn’t easy for anyone. But, our Kansas Constitutional system – which has granted us fair and impartial courts through three separate but equal branches of government – is simply too important to throw away. That is why I voted against the attempt to dismantle the Kansas system.
Let me be clear: my vote has upset the lobbyists and politicians in the Capitol who didn’t get their way. The tactics they are using – and will continue to use come election time – are inexcusable and untrue. But, you didn’t elect me to cast votes based on election postcards and the best interests of the politicians and lobbyists in the Capitol. You elected me to represent the 50th District and to cast votes based on what’s best for our families and our community.
Here is why I voted to protect our Kansas system of judicial selection:
Kansas and 23 other states use merit selection to ensure fair and impartial courts.
As Americans, we are granted the right to a fair trial. Our founding fathers recognized that a fair trial – even when it involves trying our most heinous criminals – can only be accomplished through fair and impartial courts. Our system isn’t perfect but, unlike the federal system, it is designed to be transparent, accountable, and safeguarded from political influence. That’s why Kansas, along with 23 other states, use what’s known as the merit selection model for selecting judges.
Under merit selection, Supreme Court justices are vetted by an independent commission that considers each nominee’s legal experience and qualifications. The Kansas commission, which is made up of five attorneys and four citizens, then recommends the three most qualified nominees to the Governor for his or her consideration. The Governor then selects which nominee shall be appointed to the court. While the merit selection model gives the Governor final say, it does not grant the Governor a blank check to appoint friends and political cronies at will.
Ask yourself this: If you found yourself in a courtroom, would you feel safest knowing the judge was chosen based on his legal experience and qualifications or knowing the judge was picked by politicians based on who his friends were or how much money he gave in political contributions?
I believe the checks and balances we have in place to prevent politics in our courts is critical to making sure all Kansans get a fair shake in court – regardless of their political beliefs or the size of their bank account.
Merit selection was implemented by Kansas voters to prevent corruption.
Kansas voters purposefully put our current system in place to derail corruption that had worked its way into courts across the country in the 1950’s, including our Kansas courts. It became clear that concentrating too much power in the hands of one person or in the hands of one branch of government was a slippery slope that too easily allowed for cronyism and corruption. Because of that, Kansas voters reacted by approving the merit selection process we have today. As voters, we continue to have the final say with the option to retain or remove the justices every cycle through the election process. The federal model that is being pushed in the Capitol concentrates the majority of the power with politicians instead of the people.
Kansas voters have spoken on this issue. I do not believe the Legislature should attempt to circumvent the voters with a more secretive selection process that concentrates most of the power with the Governor and the Senate. Our citizens and our businesses are best served by our current system.
Safeguarding Kansas courts is not a pro-life issue.
Lobbyists are working hard to make the judicial selection issue out to be a pro-life issue because they know that influences voters. They have already indicated they will tell Kansas voters that any legislator who voted against the judicial selection bill is not pro-life. I think that’s disgraceful. I encourage you to consider these facts: There are enough pro-life votes in the Kansas Legislature to fully ban abortions in Kansas, yet instead of pushing for a ban on abortions, the lobbyists are pushing for Kansas to implement the federal court model – the same model that gave us the Roe v. Wade decision in the first place.
Don’t be fooled. My voting record in support of pro-life legislation speaks for itself and I remain committed to upholding our community’s pro-life values. This vote was about keeping our courts transparent and our judges accountable, and keeping the system used by Obama and the federal government out of Kansas.
The bottom line is this: corruption and politics do not belong in our courts. Ronald Reagan summed it up much better than I can - “The independence of the courts from improper political influence is a sacred principle. It must always be guarded.” The fight will not end here. Those in the Capitol who didn’t get their way will be relentless in their pursuit to accumulate more power. But for now, our Kansas courts are guarded from government overreach and improper political influence.
I welcome your questions and concerns on this or any other issue being debated in the Capitol. I look forward to hearing from you. Please contact me anytime at 785-296-7460 or email@example.com.
Thank you for the honor of serving you!
Fred C. Patton
Kansas House of Representatives
50th District Representative