In confusing fashion, four former Kansas governors, John Carlin, Mike Hayden, Bill Graves and Kathleen Sebelius, kicked off a legacy protection tour in Missouri last week. The former governors encouraged attendees at a roundtable in the wrong state to retain Kansas Supreme Court justices this fall.
Several organizations are working to toss out justices Lawton Nuss, Carol Beier, Dan Biles and Marla Luckert. One organization is partisan. The other is not. A third organization, which hosted the former governors last week, is campaigning to retain the justices.
I’ll admit there are partisan reasons to oust members of the Kansas Supreme Court, especially because the court appears to base its decisions on partisan rationale. I’m still disgusted that the Kansas Supreme Court threatened to close Kansas schools over 1 percent of school funding.
Apparently, the justices’ ideology holds that if Wichita families can’t have a property tax break courtesy of Johnson County residents, then no students should be educated. The justices threatened to close all schools, but it’s questionable whether they had the authority of the ability to do so.
I still would have loved to watch the nine members of the Kansas Supreme Court attempt to bar the doors of thousands of public school buildings in Kansas. Alas, it wasn’t to be.
The Republicans capitulated to the stompy demands of judicial overreach, and here we are.
Now the courts can claim to have the ability to close the schools and probably the shut down the highway department and remove the Kansas Highway Patrol from the roads. These unelected justices shouldn’t have the power to pull purse strings or to make law, but the Kansas Legislature handed over the keys to that carriage earlier this summer.
So now it’s up to the people of Kansas to pull back on the judicial reins using the only remedy available to us by voting against retaining those four justices. However, just because a conservative has a logical reason for voting against retaining the judges, doesn’t mean every reason for removing the justices is political.
Kansans for Justice is a nonpartisan organization led by family and friends of the victims of the Carr brothers. One woman lived to tell about the night she met those men.
After hours of torture and rape, the night ended with the survivor’s boyfriend and two of her friends dying in a snowy field from gunshot wounds to the back of their heads. A barrette deflected the shot to the back of the lone survivor’s head, and she recalled in vivid detail for a criminal court what occurred that horrible night in December 2000.
A jury unanimously sentenced Reginald and Jonathan Carr to death for their crimes, and the Kansas Supreme Court reversed their death sentences. Proponents of retaining the four justices on the high court’s bench will say that no matter how heinous the crime, convicted men have the right to seek judicial review.
They are correct. However, when the Kansas Supreme Court tossed out the punishment, they forced the state to appeal the questionable ruling. This meant the lone survivor didn’t just have to relive the case during one simple judicial review. She got to relive it again as the U.S. Supreme Court made its ruling.
A nearly unanimous U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling. U.S. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg and six of their colleagues agreed that the Kansas court exercised poor judgment in tossing out the Carr brothers’ capital punishment sentence.
Good judgment should be the baseline qualification for a Kansas Supreme Court Justice, but sound judgment wasn’t exercised in the Carr case review. If that was just one bad judgment in a string of great rulings, that might be acceptable.
Even the best and the brightest get it wrong every once in a while, but having cases overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court is a fairly common experience for the Kansas Supreme Court. The highly partisan members of the Kansas court have a long history of reversing death sentences, despite being repeatedly slapped down by the U.S. Supreme Court on the topic. Because Kansans reinstated the death penalty in 1994, the Kansas court has only allowed two death sentences to stand.
Personally, I oppose the death penalty, but that fact is irrelevant. It’s the law of Kansas, and it’s allowable under U.S. law. The personal opinions of opinion scribblers and Kansas Supreme Court justices shouldn’t matter.
The law should. The laughable part of the governors’ campaign is that they are calling themselves nonpartisan while their supporters argue proponents of removing the justices are just partisan hacks using victims to advance a cause.
The former governors’ proponents question the motives of those who wish to remove the justices, but so far no one has questioned the motives of the governors themselves. Of these former governors, one no longer lives in Kansas.
Graves lives in Virginia. Sebelius has killed her political career by leading the USS Disaster known as Obamacare. Hayden was a one-term Republican governor who was walloped by the pro-life Democrat Joan Finney, and voters chose current Gov. Sam Brownback over former Gov. John Carlin in 1994, when men both ran for U.S. House of Representatives.
If the effort of these former governors looks like legacy protection and a desperate attempt for relevance, it just might be.
Danedri Herbert writes monthly. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter : @danedri.