First, an effort was announced to deny retention to two Kansas Supreme Court justices over a ruling that voided death penalty sentences for two brothers in a quadruple killing (see Gavel Grab). Now a legislator’s spouse is seeking to deny retention to a Kansas trial judge over his ruling in a case involving marriage for same-sex couples.
Defenders of fair and impartial courts are pushing back. The Kansas Bar Association, Kansas Association for Justice, Kansas Association of Defense Counsel, Kansas Appleseed and the League of Women Voters of Kansas jointly issued the following statement:
“On Election Day, Kansas voters will fulfill a significant responsibility; we will vote in the retention elections for Supreme Court Justices. Unlike legislative races, these are not meant to be partisan political contests. Our democracy rests on a foundation of fair courts, free from political interference. Judges running for retention must be evaluated for their ability to impartially apply the law in all cases. We urge voters to seek out information, available from the 2014 Kansas Judicial Review Survey, on the qualifications of justices and judges running for retention this year, before casting their votes on November 4.”
The final, contentious weeks of the political season are seeing heated debate in Kansas over the state Supreme Court’s voiding death penalty sentences handed two brothers in a notorious quadruple killing. The brothers still face life prison terms in a separate killing.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Thursday endorsed removing two of the justices in the 6-1 court majority in the case, the Associated Press said; the pair, Justices Eric Rosen and Lee Johnson, are the only court members standing for retention in November. The Republican Party chairman called for defeating the two justices.
“I support the families and what they’re pushing — the non-retention vote,” Brownback said. Family members of some of the crime spree victims are advocating against retention of the justices. Brownback is running for reelection, and his campaign has begun a TV ad critical of the Supreme Court and saying opponent Paul Davis stands with “liberal judges who let the Carr brothers off the hook.” Read moreNo comments
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider throwing out a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that struck down death penalty sentences handed two brothers in a notorious quadruple killing (see Gavel Grab).
Petitions to reinstate death penalties for Jonathan and Reginald Carr were filed with the nation’s highest court this week, according to the Wichita Eagle. The state Supreme Court’s voiding three of each man’s four capital murder convictions generated controversy, and now, some of the victims’ kin have created an organization devoted to defeating in November two of the justices who participated in the ruling. The group is called Kansans for Justice.
Only Justices Lee Johnson and Eric Rosen, of the court’s seven members, are on the retention (up-or-down) ballot, according to a different Wichita Eagle article.
Mark Befort, brother of one of the victims, told the newspaper of the devastating pain his family suffered in both the crime spree and through re-living it when the defendants were tried in court. He said the state’s highest court “has voted to either eliminate these verdicts or force all of the family members and surviving victims to have to once again re-live those crimes in court, or see these guilty verdicts erased. Read moreNo comments
A three-judge Shawnee County District Court panel has ruled that Kansas Democrats are not required to field a U.S. Senate candidate on the ballot in November, replacing a candidate who withdrew.
Because a strong independent candidate, Greg Orman, is running against Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, and there is a fierce battle over control of the Senate, the legal issues surrounding the Kansas ballot have drawn national attention. Read moreNo comments
The Kansas Republican Party found fuel for criticizing the state Supreme Court in a political fundraiser held for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis at the home of Justice Carol Beier. Her husband, Richard Green, arranged the event, and Justice Beier did not attend.
The fundraising event raises “numerous ethical questions for both Davis and the Kansas judicial branch,” Republicans said in a prepared statement, according to the Wichita Eagle.
“It’s my husband’s event, and I have taken care not to be there,” Justice Beier told the newspaper. The Davis campaign said she had no role in arranging the event. Read moreNo comments
A KCUR report provides an in-depth look at the issue. Brownback has supported efforts to scrap a judicial nominating commission that vets candidates for the high court, while Davis has resisted such efforts. And Brownback recently named his former counsel, Court of Appeals Judge Caleb Stegall, to the high court, in an action that was questioned by some advocates.
A vetting commission had failed to include Stegall’s name among candidates who applied in 2012 for a seat on the Court of Appeals, but after the legislature eliminated the vetting commission, he was named to that court by Brownback. “The entire process was essentially changed just to get Justice Stegall through the system,” said Ryan Wright of Kansans for Fair Courts. This year, Read moreNo comments
In a politically charged and nationally watched dispute, the Kansas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Tuesday in an effort to decide whether Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Chad Taylor may remove his name from the November ballot.
Taylor’s recent attempted withdrawal from the race with Republican Sen. Pat Roberts and Independent Greg Orman has widely been viewed as changing the dynamics of the contest, and possibly in favor of Orman. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, however, has contended that Taylor did not meet the legal requirements for withdrawal in the letter he submitted, because he did not declare he would be incapable of serving if voters elected him. Read moreNo comments
Editorial opinion in Kansas reacting to Gov. Sam Brownback’s appointment of his former counsel, Court of Appeals Judge Caleb Stegall, to the state Supreme Court continues to diverge (see Gavel Grab).
A Wichita Eagle editorial was headlined, “Judicial selection system worked.” Judge Stegall was tapped for the high court after a judicial nominating commission screened applicants and recommended three finalists to the governor. The editorial also noted Brownback’s earlier criticism of this merit-based selection system and urged him to back off:
“[I]n the wake of Stegall’s selection Brownback should at least call off the legislative dogs who’d like to further underfund and undermine the high court and to abolish the nominating commission entirely.” Read more
Critics unhappy with Gov. Sam Brownback’s appointment of his former counsel, Judge Caleb Stegall, to the Kansas Supreme Court have a right to complain, but they need to understand that “[E]lections have consequences,” columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah writes in a Kansas City Star essay.
People who don’t like Brownback’s judicial appointments have the right to unseat the governor, Abouhalkah notes. When Court of Appeals Judge Stegall was chosen by Brownback for the state’s highest court, one of the most outspoken critics of the appointment was House Minority Leader Paul Davis, who is running against Brownback this fall. Read moreNo comments
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s pick of former chief counsel Caleb Stegall for a state Supreme Court opening (see Gavel Grab) met with criticism in some quarters. Judge Stegall has served on the Kansas Court of Appeals since January.
“By skipping over two highly qualified nominees and selecting someone with so little experience, Governor Brownback has once again shown that rewarding a political ally is far more important than doing what’s best for the people of Kansas,” said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.
“Once again, Sam Brownback put his own political agenda before the best interests of Kansans,” said House Minority Leader Paul Davis. “Instead of choosing a judge with more than 20 years on the bench, he chose his Read moreNo comments