Five Kansas Supreme Court justices — Chief Justice Lawton Nuss and Justices Marla Luckert, Carol Beier, Daniel Biles, and Caleb Stegall — are up for retention in the Nov. 8 election. Each has demonstrated competency while serving on the court and should be retained.
If retained, the justices will serve six-year terms before facing retention again.
Supreme Court justices are not elected. They are appointed by the governor based on recommendations made by a judicial nominating commission. Judicial retention was adopted in Kansas in 1958 to add public accountability to the judicial appointment process. Since the process began, voters have retained every Supreme Court justice to stand for retention.
Kansans for Justice is trying to change that this year. That group is campaigning against the retention of Nuss, Luckert, Beier and Biles. The group supports only Stegall, who was appointed by Gov. Sam Brownback in 2013.
Kansans for Justice has been running commercials critical of the justices, particularly the court’s handling of the criminal case of Reginald and Jonathan Carr, brothers who went on a crime spree in 2000, killing five people. In 2014, the Kansas Supreme Court overturned the death penalties given to both brothers, ruling that the trial judge had erred during the penalty phase. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Kansas Supreme Court, returning the Carr brothers to death row.
In addition to the Carr case, many believe the push to oust the justices is retribution for the Kansas Supreme Court’s rulings on K-12 education funding. The court has ruled that the state’s method of funding public education was unconstitutional and inadequate. In the coming months, justices are expected to issue a ruling defining adequate funding for education, a decision that could require the state Legislature to put hundreds of millions of dollars more toward education. That ruling is expected to have a dramatic impact on the state budget.
The Kansas Supreme Court rules on thousands of cases. Voters do not and should not expect every decision to reflect their individual views, nor should that be the standard for judicial competence. What Kansans should expect is for justices to be advocates for the law and to be rigorous and thorough in examining cases to ensure that justice is served regardless of political fallout. Every justice on the ballot has demonstrated they meet that standard and should be retained on Nov. 8.