Committee recommends constitutional amendment on abortion; more study of judicial selection system

After two days of public hearings, it is apparent the Kansas Supreme Court and some of its recent rulings will be under the legislative microscope during the 2020 session that starts in January.

The Special Committee on Judiciary recommended the Legislature continue studying whether changes should be made in the way justices are selected to the Kansas Supreme Court. Changes to the judicial selection process could affect school finance.

And the committee recommended Kansas voters should be given the opportunity to change the state constitutional right of abortion.

Some legislators are angry over a ruling by the court in April, blocking a Kansas ban on a common second trimester abortion procedure. In blocking the ban, the court said the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights protects the ability to control one’s own body, including a woman’s decision whether to continue a pregnancy.

Anti-abortion legislators on the committee approved recommending a constitutional amendment that would reverse the court’s ruling in that case. To amend the Kansas Constitution requires a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate to get a question before voters and then approval by voters.

Critics of the court have also complained about court orders over the past few years to increase school funding and have been pushing for ways to change the way justices are selected. Currently, Kansas Supreme Court justices are appointed by the governor from a list of three candidates submitted by the Supreme Court Nominating Commission. That non-partisan Nominating Commission includes nine members, five of whom are appointed by Kansas lawyers and four by the governor. Justices on the court are subject to retention election.

Judiciary Chairman state Sen. Eric Rucker, R-Topeka, provided a proposed recommendation that the Legislature continue to study the issue to consider whether the makeup of the Nominating Commission should be changed; whether Senate confirmation for justices should be required and whether the Nominating Commission should be abolished.

But after much discussion, the committee decided to recommend only continued study of the issue. Legislative leaders have promised to take up the issue when the 2020 legislative sessions starts in January.

The Judiciary Committee also recommended further evaluation of the ramifications of a June court opinion that said caps on non-economic damages in certain lawsuits violated the constitution.

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