Topeka In 2005, Caleb Stegall, who Gov. Sam Brownback has nominated to the Kansas Court of Appeals, encouraged "forcible resistance" to try to save the life of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman who had been at the center of a national debate over the right to die.
After the courts ordered removal of Terri Schiavo's life support, Stegall — an attorney who was then editor of The New Pantagruel, an online Christian magazine — and his colleagues at the magazine issued an editorial statement:
"It now appears that all legal recourse to save Terri’s life has failed. As Terri’s family and millions of people know, the State is wrong. There is a higher law. If last-ditch efforts in the Florida Legislature and the United States Congress also fail, and the administration of Governor Jeb Bush fails in its duty to uphold the higher law, those closest to Terri—her family, friends, and members of their communities of care—are morally free to contemplate and take extra-legal action as they deem it necessary to save Terri’s life, up to and including forcible resistance to the State’s coercive and unjust implementation of Terri’s death by starvation," the statement said.
Stegall, 41, has been thrust into the political spotlight as Brownback's first pick for the state Court of Appeals under a new law that removed a nominating commission from the selection process.
Brownback's office has declined to let the press ask questions of Stegall. A request for comment from the governor's office regarding the Schiavo statement was not immediately answered.
Stegall has submitted hundreds of pages of documents about himself to Brownback's office and a Senate committee that will hold a hearing Tuesday on his nomination.
The submitted information shows Stegall as a conservative, Christian, abortion opponent and an outspoken critic of liberalism and what he sees as the increasing influence of modern culture. The statement about Schiavo, who died about two weeks after it was published, was not included in those documents.
The information that Stegall submitted in support of his nomination includes a wide variety of background material underscoring his conservative philosophy, including a 2004 article in the New York Times that wrote about Stegall as part of a group of new thinkers who were trying to redefine the conservative movement. Over the years, Stegall has outlined his conservative views in a variety of other statements and actions, as well.
In 2008, when he was running for Jefferson County attorney, Stegall was general counsel for Americans for Prosperity, which advocates for cuts in taxes and government spending, and he served on the executive committee for Audubon of Kansas.
On the issue of abortion, Stegall said during a 2008 online chat with the Lawrence Journal-World, "I am pro-life and politically a federalist." Of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion, he said, "On legal grounds, I believe Roe v Wade to be a weak decision and believe that the matter is best left to state control."
His nomination submission also includes a 54-page analysis critical of the school finance decision by the Kansas Supreme Court that forced the Legislature to increase funding to schools. Stegall wrote the analysis for the Kansas Policy Institute, a group often critical of public school funding. He concluded that Kansas needed to pass a constitutional amendment that put the Legislature in charge of determining what suitable funding of schools should be.
"Regardless of the specific constitutional proposals, it is incumbent upon the Legislature to address the matter constitutionally, as until that point the taxpayers of the state will be held hostage by a powerful special interest with constitutional carte blanche to spend with virtually no limit," he said.
In the spring of 2009, Stegall gave the commencement address to Veritas Christian School.
Stegall urged the students to try to experience truth and goodness wherever they find themselves and to resist the temptations of the world.
"Oh, they will tell you that their marches for progress and rights are daring, and that they are radical.
"Or they will tell you that their religious revivals are conservative, that they are the moral center.
"You will hear it all, but the truth is that for the most part, people are in the grips of a boring, lifeless ideology of personal fulfillment, choice and upward mobility. We live in a society of tourists, and if tourists have one thing in common it is this — that they are not at home."
Stegall told them of a personal story where he was representing former attorney general Phill Kline, who tried to prosecute clinics that provided abortions.
"At the crux of the case was whether laws restricting abortion could ever actually be enforced," Stegall said. He said arrayed against Kline "were the whole force of the abortion industry nationwide and virtually of the powers of the State Government," he said.
The proceedings were being followed on a national level. Stegall said he was up against eight or nine lawyers, some from New York "brought in to this troublesome little state in fly-over country to protect the abortion industry."
Stegall said he passed out his business card with a Perry, Kansas, address and "one of the big city lawyers turned to his colleague and said with more shock than condescension in his voice, 'Where the heck is Perry, Kansas?' Only he used more colorful language."
Stegall's appointment to the second highest court in Kansas has drawn fire from numerous critics for the process Brownback used.
Under a new law, which was pushed for by Brownback, Stegall and other conservative Republicans, the governor makes an appointment to the appeals court, subject to Senate confirmation. Under the former system, a nominating commission vetted and interviewed candidates and submitted three names for the governor to pick from. The names of those who applied were released to the public, but under the new system, Brownback has refused to divulge who applied for the vacancy.