CJ Online: Poll: Voters favor retaining at least some of the Kansas Supreme Court justices by wide margin
By Jonathan Shorman
The Kansas Supreme Court is more popular than Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature, a new poll shows, and voters favor retaining at least some of the justices by a wide margin — though many haven’t made up their minds.
The survey, from the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University, reveals voters are evenly split between retaining all and some of the justices. Thirty-three percent want to retain all, while 33 percent want to only retain some.
Just 15 percent said they would vote to retain none of the five justices up for retention, and 19 percent said they didn’t know. The court as a whole has a satisfaction rating of 53 percent. Twenty-six percent said they are dissatisfied with the court.
Voters appear to favor retaining all the justices when asked about each individually. All the justices — Carol Beier, Marla Luckert, Dan Biles, Lawton Nuss and Caleb Stegall — have about the same level of support for their retention. All garnered support between 43 and 45 percent.
All of them face between 20-22 percent opposition to retention, according to the poll. But a large percentage — 35 to 36 percent — of those surveyed said they don’t know whether to retain the justices.
The newest justice, Stegall, who is perceived as a more conservative justice and was appointed by Gov. Sam Brownback, garnered about the same level of support as the other justices.
With a little more than a week left before the election, campaigns to retain and to oust the justices are in full swing. Advocates of retention point out that no justice has been nonretained in the decades Kansas’ retention system has been in place. Opponents of retention voice anger over rulings in death penalty, education and other cases — while most also say they want to keep Stegall.
The court is also considering a case that involves deciding whether the Kansas Constitution provides the right to an abortion.
“Kansas voters have the right to remove elected officials and have even more responsibility to oust judges who legislate from the bench,” the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life says on its anti-retention website.
Meanwhile, supporters of the justices argue voters need to push back against what they view as efforts to politicize the court by Brownback and the Republican-dominated Legislature. Legislation to begin the process of changing the way justices are selected failed earlier this year.
“Gov. Brownback has tried to remake the court by changing the rules about how justices are selected. The Legislature has targeted the court with new laws and budget cuts that threaten Kansans’ access to justice. The politicians in Topeka want to control our Supreme Court,” Ryan Wright, with the group Kansans for Fair Courts, said in an email.