More than a half-century ago, some unpopular political maneuvering in Kansas caused voters there to create one of the nation’s more unique structures for appointing judges to a state supreme court. That change purposefully reined in the nomination powers of state elected officials, namely the governor.
Over the past few years, the legislative and executive branches have been exploring ideas to get some of that authority back.
“Kansas is the only state in the country where the selection of supreme court justices is controlled by a handful of lawyers,” Gov. Sam Brownback said in his annual State of the State address this year.
He has been among the state’s political leaders pushing for a constitutional change, one that would either alter Kansas’ merit-based selection process or get rid of it altogether. Like many states with merit-based appointment systems, Kansas uses a nominating commission to create a pool of candidates to fill open positions to the Supreme Court.
Best known today for its use in the U.S. Senate, the filibuster is a legislative tactic that dates back centuries — even to the days of ancient Rome. But for most legislators serving in the 11-state Midwest, this maneuver to stall debate or block a bill’s passage is much more a curiosity than a legislative reality or obstacle.
The one exception is Nebraska, home to perhaps the most unique legislative branch among the 50 U.S. state governments. In that state, where 49 senators serve in a one-house, nonpartisan chamber, the filibuster — or the threat of it — is a common occurrence.
“We operate more like a senate here rather than like a house in that we give the members great latitude to discuss, debate, cajole their colleagues,” says Patrick O’Donnell, clerk of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.