Topeka — An anti-abortion group launched a campaign Friday to oust at least one Kansas Supreme Court justice in this year’s election because of how the court has handled cases on the issue.
Kansans for Life will campaign against Justice Carol Beier and may expand its efforts to other justices, Executive Director Mary Kay Culp told The Associated Press. Abortion opponents are especially upset with Beier because of majority opinions she wrote in 2006 and 2008 cases.
Culp later announced the campaign during a rally of about 1,000 abortion opponents outside the Supreme Court’s building on Friday, the 37th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. “One of the biggest problems is in the building behind me, the Kansas Supreme Court,” Culp told the crowd. “‘Fire Beier’ is our rallying cry.”
Kansas Supreme Court justices are appointed by the governor but must ask voters every six years to keep them on the bench. Beier and three other justices — a majority of the seven members — are on the ballot Nov. 2.
Organized campaigns against Supreme Court justices have been rare since Kansas abandoned partisan elections for the court in 1960. Since then, no justice has failed to win retention with less than two-thirds of the vote.
Responding to criticism from abortion foes, court spokesman Ron Keefover said: “I can tell you firsthand, based on 30 years of observation, that the court’s decisions have always been based on the constitution and on the governing statutes and regulations.”
Rep. Marti Crow, a Leavenworth Democrat and an attorney who supports abortion rights, saw the effort as a “vendetta” against Beier.
“It hurts the independence of the justice system, which is very key to everybody’s rights,” she said.
Culp said Kansans for Life plans to mail 150,000 postcards before the election noting its opposition to Beier, as well as endorsements of candidates for other races. It may also run radio ads opposing Beier or other justices, she said.
On the ballot with Beier are Justices Dan Biles, Marla Luckert and Lawton Nuss. Beier has served on the court since September 2003 and was retained by voters in 2004, with more than 76 percent voting “yes.”
Beier, Biles, Luckert and Justice Eric Rosen were appointed to the high court by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat who supported abortion rights. A nominating commission screens applications and names three finalists, but the governor’s choice isn’t subject to Senate confirmation, as other major appointees are.
Sebelius helped recruit Paul Morrison, an abortion-rights Democrat who unseated Phill Kline, an anti-abortion Republican, as attorney general in 2006. The two majority opinions written by Beier in abortion cases deal with issues arising from Kline’s investigation of abortion providers, first as attorney general and later as Johnson County district attorney.
Abortion opponents are upset that the Supreme Court has not ruled on legal issues surrounding a criminal case Kline filed in 2007 as Johnson County district attorney against a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park, keeping the case from going to trial.
But they’ve long singled out Beier because her opinions in 2006 and 2008 strongly criticized Kline.
In a December 2008 ruling, she said Kline “exhibits little, if any, respect” for the court or the rule of law. The court’s 5-2 majority sent its opinion to the official who investigates allegations of misconduct against attorneys, and Kline now faces an ethics complaint.
Dissenters in that ruling said they were troubled by the majority opinion’s comments about Kline. Then-Chief Justice Kay McFarland wrote that the comments were designed to threaten and “heap scorn” upon Kline and were inappropriate.
“We think the people of Kansas deserve to know before they vote the extent of the unprofessional, prejudiced attitude of Judge Beier,” Culp told the AP.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican who has supported restrictions on abortion, said he thinks Beier has done a good job as a justice and that “overall, our Supreme Court does a good job.”