Topeka — The Kansas Supreme Court's newest justice won't be sworn in until Nov. 18, guaranteeing he won't face voters next year amid ongoing criticism that the court is out of touch.
Some Republican legislators suggested Thursday the timing of Eric Rosen joining the court could be an attempt to avoid voters. Many GOP lawmakers contend Kansans are angry about Supreme Court rulings on education funding and capital punishment.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius named Rosen to the state's highest court on July 22. Rosen is a Shawnee County district judge, and he said when Sebelius appointed him that he wanted to finish pending cases in his court.
House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said he admired Rosen but accused Sebelius of trying "to get around the will of the people." Mays is seeking the Republican nomination to challenge Sebelius next year and led the failed fight during this summer's special session to send voters a proposed constitutional amendment limiting the court's authority.
"What she's doing here is fundamentally wrong," Mays said. "I really think the governor owes the people of the state an explanation."
Spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran said Sebelius had nothing to do with the timing of Rosen's swearing-in and noted that Rosen mentioned when he was appointed that he still had cases pending in district court.
Age: 52; born May 25, 1953. Hometown: Topeka. Education: Bachelor's degree in social work, Kansas University, 1975; master's degree in social work, KU, 1976; law degree, Washburn University, 1984. Career: Served as Shawnee County District Court judge from 1993 to present. Was in private practice from 1990 to 1993. Served as assistant district attorney and later associate general counsel to the Kansas Securities Commission. Was an assistant public defender upon graduating from law school. Personal: He and his wife, Libby, have four sons and three grandchildren.
When asked whether having to face voters was a consideration in scheduling the swearing-in, court spokesman Ron Keefover said: "Absolutely not."
Rosen was at an all-day conference Thursday and didn't return a telephone message left at his office.
A new justice must serve a year in office before facing a retention vote at the next general election. The justice then faces retention every six years.
If Rosen's swearing-in were Nov. 6 or earlier, he'd have to face retention in the Nov. 7, 2006, general election. The Nov. 18 date means Rosen won't be on the ballot until 2008.
"It looks suspicious," said Rep. Frank Miller, R-Independence. "It just kind of confirms that court is now definitely a Sebelius court."
Rosen is Sebelius' second appointment to the seven-member Supreme Court. Her first, Justice Carol Beier, was retained in 2004 by a 76.5 percent vote.
Winning retention hasn't been a problem for justices. Since 1960, when the state ended partisan elections for the court, no justice has failed to win retention by less than a two-thirds majority.
But many Republican legislators, particularly conservatives, contend their constituents are angry about court rulings on education funding, which forced the special session this year. In June, the court told legislators to provide an additional $143 million for schools - and many GOP lawmakers said the justices exceeded their constitutional authority by setting a figure.
Also, in December, a 4-3 court majority struck down the state's death penalty law, creating the possibility that several convicted murderers won't face execution for notorious multiple killings. Atty. Gen. Phill Kline has appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"It seems like they're becoming political, and I don't think that's their purpose," said Sen. Peggy Palmer, R-Augusta.
The school finance and death penalty rulings led Palmer and other Republicans to propose requiring Senate confirmation for court appointees.
Mays and Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt said the timing of Rosen's swearing in will renew interest in the measure.
"It's going to fan the flames of those who think the court is increasingly a political actor and whether that's true or not. This really does not strengthen the court as an institution," said Schmidt, R-Independence.