Steve Rose: Revenge politics to undermine Supreme Court in Kansas

BY STEVE ROSE | Special to The Kansas CityStar

Before there was the 1958 constitutional amendment that mandated how Supreme Court justices in Kansas were to be selected, two years earlier, there was the infamous “Kansas triple play,” a shenanigan that boggles the mind.

The incumbent Gov. Fred Hall was defeated in the 1956 primary by Warren Shaw. Shaw then lost to George Docking in the general election. Then, on Dec. 31, Chief Justice William Smith resigned from the Supreme Court, allegedly because of poor health. Hall, who had his eyes on the chief justice’s job, resigned as governor before Docking took office. Then, Lt. Gov. John McCuish, who became governor, immediately appointed Hall to the now vacated Supreme Court seat. Voila! The “triple play” was complete. It was not illegal. It was ethically a lousy way to pick a Supreme Court chief justice.

Kansans were disgusted. They passed a constitutional amendment two years later that described how Supreme Court justices were to be appointed. That method is still with us and has worked well for 58 years. Nine individuals — five attorneys selected by other attorneys and four non-attorneys appointed by the governor — nominate three individuals to the Supreme Court. The governor then picks from the three.

Gov. Sam Brownback and his allies in the Legislature hate this method for one reason: They do not have enough control over the selection process. They want a different kind of “triple play.” The state would be run by a conservative governor, a conservative Legislature and a conservative Supreme Court. So much for checks and balance. The movement toward making that constitutional change lacks enough votes in the Legislature. Frustrated conservatives want voters to throw out four of the five Supreme Court justices up for retention election in November. They claim they are too liberal and, thus, should be replaced by conservatives.

Read the entire editorial at the KC Star.