Hays Daily News: Retain justices
By Patrick Lowry
At the bottom of this fall’s General Election ballot are questions about whether certain Kansas Supreme Court justices and appellate courts judges should be retained. The simple yes-or-no options should be top of mind for Kansas voters, as they will determine whether the state continues to have an independent judiciary — or one that’s controlled by the governor’s office.
It is no secret that Gov. Sam Brownback would like more say over who sits on the state’s highest court. He has not appreciated having his dream of a “red state utopia” thwarted by having justices declaring unconstitutional any number of ultraconservative laws regarding public education, capital punishment and abortion cases.
In 2012, the governor explained to former Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, what kind of appointments Brownback wanted. Owens recounted a meeting with the governor at which he said: “Tim, why can’t you go along with us on this judicial selection issue and let us change the way we select judges so we can get judges who will vote the way we want them to?”
Owens didn’t “go along” — and was defeated in that year’s primary by a Brownback-approved conservative opponent. The purge, which was double downed on in 2014, allowed the governor to push legislation attempting to weaken the judiciary branch. Giving the governor more control of potential Supreme Court justices was just one example. Other laws passed included detailed explanations of how justices could be impeached, how Kansas Court of Appeals judges would be selected, and how district court chief judges would be named. The Legislature even tied funding of the judiciary branch to how the Supreme Court ruled on the chief judge issue.
The power grab was plain for all to see. Still, the Supreme Court justices continued to make rulings based on law and not the Brownback agenda being rubber-stamped by a compliant Legislature.