Stegall backed by D.C. nonprofit ; Ad placed by conservative group praises state's new selection process [Topeka Capital Journal (KS)]
(Topeka Capital Journal (KS) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The morning after Caleb Stegall's appointment to the Kansas Court of Appeals was confirmed in a party-line Senate vote, a full-page advertisement in The Topeka Capital-Journal from a group identified as "JCN" lauded the pick and Gov. Sam Brownback.
The ad came from the Judicial Crisis Network, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization that is identified as "conservative" by the campaign finance website OpenSecrets.org. The group's full name appeared at the bottom of the ad as originally designed, but was cut off because of a technical error.
The Judicial Crisis Network, which has been critical of President Barack Obama's U.S. Supreme Court appointments, praised legislators and Brownback for adopting the federal judicial selection model for the Kansas Court of Appeals last session.
"Because of your leadership, special interest lawyers no longer control appointments to the Kansas Court of Appeals," the ad states.
Dennis Depew, president of the Kansas Bar Association, disputed that characterization of the previous selection method.
"I'm certainly not aware that any special interest in the legal profession at all controls anything to do with merit selection under the current method for picking (Kansas) Supreme Court justices and former method for picking Court of Appeals judges," Depew said.
Prior to this year, a nine-member nominating commission within the judicial branch vetted applicants for Court of Appeals judges and forwarded the governor three choices.
The commission, which still chooses Kansas Supreme Court nominees, includes four nonlawyers appointed by the governor, four lawyers voted in by their legal colleagues in each of the state's four congressional districts and one lawyer elected by lawyers statewide who also serves as chairman.
Carrie Severino, JCN's chief counsel and policy director, said in a phone interview arranged by a public relations firm that lawyers themselves are a special interest group, with interests that include increasing litigation.
She also noted that they aren't elected like the senators who confirmed Stegall.
"We are interested in judicial selection that will keep judges accountable to people across the nation," Severino said, adding that studies show nominating commissions tend to produce disproportionately liberal courts.
The nominating commission selection model is supported by another D.C. nonprofit group, Justice at Stake, which criticized the Legislature for switching and Brownback for not making the names of all applicants public, as the Kansas commission does.
The Judicial Crisis Network dismissed Justice at Stake's concerns as politically motivated, noting that Justice at Stake receives a portion of its funding from a foundation that is connected to liberal activist George Soros.
Justice at Stake's website includes a list of 58 "partner" organizations and a separate webpage with 18 "funders," including the Soros-founded Open Society Foundations.
The Judicial Crisis Network has no such disclosures online and, as an organization with 501(c)(4) tax status, isn't legally required to name its donors.
According to OpenSecrets.org, JCN received a total of $520,000 in 2010 and 2011 from the Wellspring Committee. During those years, Wellspring also donated to groups like RightChange, which is devoted to electing conservatives; Citizens for the Republic, which is "dedicated to revitalizing the conservative movement;" and the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which pushes a host of conservative causes, including outlawing gay marriage.
JCN was previously the "Judicial Confirmation Network" during President George W. Bush's tenure.
Depew said the Kansas nominating commission had produced fair and competent judges, but JCN is looking for judges of a certain political persuasion.
"The rule of law has never been about politics," Depew said. "It's been about what's the right thing to do. It would appear to me they are trying to further politicize judicial appointments, and that's unfortunate."
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