Gavel Grab

Another Push Ahead to Change Kansas Court Selection Method?

KS-Supreme-Court-logo200Legislators interested in changing the way Kansas Supreme Court justices are selected seized on a court ruling that overturned death penalty sentences handed two brothers in a notorious quadruple killing (see Gavel Grab).

The ruling “will likely fuel another push by conservative Republicans to give the governor and legislators more say in how the justices are chosen,” the Associated Press reported.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Republican, said that when legislators return to work in January, judicial selection will “absolutely” be a topic given the court rulings last week. He said the rulings were not surprising.

“There will always be cries for the heads of judges when they make difficult and unpopular rulings,” said Rep. John Carmichael, a Democrat.  ”It’s an imperative that we have independent courts.” Read more

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Kansas Governor ‘Stunned’ by Court’s Voiding Death Sentences

KansasKansas Gov. Sam Brownback said he was “stunned” by a state Supreme Court ruling that overturned death penalty sentences handed two brothers in a notorious quadruple killing.

The Supreme Court, in a 6-1 ruling, also invalidated three out of four capital murder convictions against the brothers, Jonathan and Reginald Carr, according to the Associated Press. The court pointed two procedural problems during the joint trial of the brothers.

“They were convicted by a jury of their peers in front of an elected local judge,” Brownback said. “Today’s ruling unnecessarily reopens wounds of a tragic moment in Wichita’s history.” Read more

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Commentary: Avoid Further Secrecy on Judicial Applicants’ Names

It’s good for the public to have the names of applicants for the Kansas Supreme Court, a Wichita Eagle editorial page blog says. The writer, Rhonda Holman, says this transparency would be endangered if legislators change the state constitution to dump the current merit selection process for picking justices.

For a new vacancy on the high court, 14 people have applied for consideration by a judicial nominating commission, and they include four members of the state Court of Appeals. Holman notes that this kind of transparency was not in effect when Gov. Sam Brownback appointed a new judge to the Court of Appeals last year; the legislature had changed, by passing a new law, the process for selection of Court of Appeals judges (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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Fourteen Seek Nomination to Kansas Supreme Court

KansasFourteen people have applied for nomination by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court. On Aug. 4 and 5, the Supreme Court Nominating Commission expects to interview the applicants and then recommend three finalists to the governor.

One of the applicants is Court of Appeals Judge Caleb Stegall, a former chief counsel to the governor whom Brownback named a judge last year under a new process adopted by the legislature for that court. It  dumped any role for a nominating commission, according to the Associated Press, and added a requirement for state Senate confirmation. Read more

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Editorial: New Kansas Law is ‘Payback’ Against High Court

stock-footage-kansas-flag-loopWhen Kansas legislators recently weakened the administrative authority of the state Supreme Court over all state courts, they were retaliating against the high court over its controversial decisions about public school funding and other matters, a Wichita Eagle editorial says.

What’s more, the legislation — signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback — was an action taken in anger, “of questionable constitutionality doubling as payback and a brushback pitch,” the editorial contends.

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Commentary: Parallels in Kansas to Court-Bashing After ‘Brown’

Kansas-Flag-2On the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, a defender of impartial courts finds disturbing parallels between the backlash that greeted Brown and retribution against the Kansas Supreme Court in modern times over its public school financing decisions.

“The courts voted in these cases to protect the constitutional rights of the less powerful and to expand rights to public education. Sadly, however, critics of Brown honed a political line of attack against the judiciary that still thrives in Topeka six decades later,” writes Ryan Wright, executive director of Kansans for Fair Courts and the Kansas Values Institute, in a Wichita Eagle op-ed.

Wright states that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law recently a legislative attack on the court, a court funding measure that at the same time started taking apart a practice of keeping a unified budget for the courts. The state Supreme Court’s justices took exception to his signing the bill (see Gavel Grab). The op-ed also mentions other legislative assaults on Kansas courts, and concludes:

“While the lessons of Brown are many, one of its most lasting lessons is the enduring need for citizens to stand up tall for the courts that protect our rights.”

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Critical Ads in Judicial Elections Draw Attention, Questions

RobinHudsonAttackAdAds critical of judicial candidates are getting attention, and questioning, in news media reports from several states.

As Gavel Grab mentioned earlier, a TV ad in the North Carolina Supreme Court primary said incumbent Justice Robin Hudson was “not tough on child molesters.” Raleigh News & Observer columnist Rob Christensen now writes that $1.3 million spent linking the judge and child molesters “was too extreme.” It is evidence that voters “know when one [negative ad] doesn’t pass the smell test” that the ad “backfired and Hudson led the primary field,” he adds.

Meanwhile, regarding an Arkansas Supreme Court race set for May 20, a Times Record article focused on an ad by the Law Enforcement Alliance of America that accuses a candidate of believing that child pornography is a victimless crime.

The Arkansas Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers condemned the ad. “To challenge the qualifications of a judicial candidate for fulfilling a constitutional mandate of a person’s right to counsel is to belittle one of the core beliefs of this country,” said Justin Eisele, the group’s president. Read more

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KS Judge Confirmed to U.S. Court, Giving Brownback an Opening

The U.S. Senate has confirmed President Obama’s nomination of Nancy Moritz, a justice on the Kansas Supreme Court, to the Denver-based Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Her elevation will give Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback his first opportunity to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court.

Kansas_quarter,_reverse_side,_2005The nomination of Justice Moritz to the federal appeals bench had the support of Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, and the Senate voted 90-3 to confirm her, according to the Associated Press.

Brownback and allies have advocated dismantling an existing merit selection system for choosing state Supreme Court justices, similar to action taken by the legislature last year to scrap merit selection for Kansas Court of Appeals judges (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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New Law Could Hamper Courts in Serving Kansans: Editorial

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is unfortunate that Kansas legislators recently passed a state court funding bill that also might make it harder for the courts to carry out their work in serving Kansans, a Lawrence Journal-World editorial says.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed the legislation, which will allow local courts to opt out of state Supreme Court control over budget preparation and submission; and take away the Supreme Court’s authority to pick chief district court judges (see Gavel Grab).

According to the editorial, “The legislation removes the Supreme Court’s ability to shift funding to districts that may face unexpected expenses, such as the cost of a capital murder trial. Putting administrative judges in charge of budgets, with limited supervision by the Supreme Court, also may raise some concerns about how those budgets are managed, particularly in the 14 state court districts in which judges are elected in partisan elections.” Read more

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Fair Courts Group Faults ‘Retribution’ in KS Governor’s Signing Bill

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s signing of a bill that links increased court funding with removal of some power from the state Supreme Court to district courts was blasted as “political retribution” by a group defending impartial courts.

courts_logoRyan Wright, executive director of Kansans for Fair Courts, told the Wichita Eagle, “We are disheartened that the Governor has allowed political retribution to stand as a substitute for reasoned policymaking and respect for the rule of law.” Wright questioned whether the new law will promote justice.

Some news reports have said that the bill was passed by legislators displeased with a recent state Supreme Court ruling that parts of state funding of public school education were unconstitutional. Read more

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