Brownback: Friend not shoo-in for court vacancy

Gov. Brownback Votes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Gov. Sam Brownback says his friend and former aide is not his obvious choice to fill a vacancy on the Kansas Supreme Court.

Kansas Court of Appeals Judge Caleb Stegall is among three finalists selected by a special nominating commission earlier this month for a seat on the high court. Stegall was chief counsel until the governor appointed him to the state Court of Appeals in January 2014.

The other finalists, chosen from a pool of 13 applicants, are Court of Appeals Judge Karen Arnold-Burger and Merlin G. Wheeler, chief judge of the 5th Judicial Circuit encompassing Lyon and Chase counties. Brownback has 60 days to appoint one of them to replace Justice Nancy Moritz, who left to join the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Brownback’s appointee to the Supreme Court will not require state Senate confirmation.

“I have to interview three people here,” Brownback said Friday. “That’s what I’m going to do.”

Brownback said interviews with the three candidates will begin soon, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1sJV7eH ), and that he plans to “quiz people about a lot of different areas” to judge their competence, judicial temperament, intellect and experience.

“I take judicial selections very seriously,” Brownback said. “This is a very important function of the governor’s office.”

Brownback appointed Stegall to the Court of Appeals under a new system that bypasses the nominating commission but adds Kansas Senate confirmation. The change was made by law, but a state constitutional amendment is necessary to alter how Supreme Court justices are named.

Supporters of the Court of Appeals system contend the new method is more open. Backers of the way Supreme Court candidates are screened contend it eliminates partisan politics.

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