Topeka Regardless of whether Gov. Kathleen Sebelius finishes her term of office, runs for the U.S. Senate or goes to work for President-elect Barack Obama, her stamp on the laws of Kansas will be felt far into the future.
On Wednesday, Sebelius named attorney Dan Biles to the Kansas Supreme Court to became the first governor in state history to have appointed a majority to that seven-member court.
Sebelius said she believes changes brought to the court through her appointments have produced a good “dynamic.”
The newer court members are “looking at the world through a slightly different lens,” she said.
Recently, Sebelius said, a national organization informed her that half of the women judges in Kansas were appointed by her.
“We now have a judiciary that is beginning to look a little more like the population at large, and that is good,” she said.
In addition to Biles, Sebelius’ appointees to the Kansas Supreme Court are Carol Beier, Eric Rosen and Lee Johnson.
Justices are appointed by the governor from individuals submitted by a nominating commission.
After the first year in office, a justice is subject to a retention vote in the next general election. If the justice is retained, he or she remains in office and then is up for a retention election every six years.
Justices cannot seek a new term after they turn 70 years old. The justices whom Sebelius has put on the court could be interpreting the state’s laws and constitution for a long time.
Johnson is 61, Biles, 56, Rosen, 55, and Beier, 50. Of the three remaining justices, Marla Luckert, 53, and Lawton Nuss, 56 were appointed by Gov. Bill Graves; and Robert Davis, 69, was appointed by Gov. Joan Finney.
Biles is filling the position that will be created by the retirement of Chief Justice Kay McFarland, who has served on the court 31 years.
Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, said he believes the court has become “less conservative” in recent years.
Some have been critical of the court’s rulings in recent years in requiring increases in school funding and striking down the state’s death penalty, a decision that was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Schmidt said regardless of which party the governor belongs to, new appointees to the Kansas Supreme Court should be subject to Senate confirmation.
“All the judicial branch has is the trust of the public that judges interpret law and are outside of politics,” Schmidt said.
“Whenever judges are perceived as making law, that is damaging to the judiciary as an institution. It would be good for the institution to have more transparency and have the check and balance of Senate confirmation,” he said. But, so far, his proposal to require Senate confirmation hasn’t gained traction in the Legislature.