On November 8, Kansans will head to the polls to pick a new president. In addition, they will vote for a U.S. Senator, all four U.S. Congressional members, 40 state senate seats and 125 House offices. As election cycles go, this one has seen its fair share of controversy, especially on the national stage. But here in Kansas, election year politics have ticked up a notch. The most contentious isn’t any of the 170 elected offices listed above, but on five nonpartisan retention elections at the bottom of the ballot.
This election focuses on the Kansas Supreme Court Justices. The Kansas Constitution requires Kansas Supreme Court justices to be placed on the ballot in nonpartisan elections every six years, so voters can determine whether they should remain on their courts for another six-year term. These are called “retention” elections. This year Chief Justice Lawton R. Nuss, Justice Marla J. Luckert; Justice Carol A. Beier, Justice Dan Biles, and Justice Caleb Stegall are on the ballot.
Retention elections are different than partisan elections, because your vote determines whether each justice should remain on the court. They are not running against opponents or each other. Merit retention elections are nonpartisan. In nonpartisan elections, candidates appear on the ballot without reference to any political party, (e.g. Democrat or Republican). To retain their seats, the judge or justice must garner more than 50% of the vote.
Two years ago Justice Eric Rosen and Justice Lee Johnson won their retention elections with a little over 53% of the vote, the smallest margin of victory in Kansas history.
Now the push to unseat four of five justices up for retention is picking up. This is not a new topic, but just one with more urgency this cycle. Earlier this year it was reported that bad blood existed between the Supreme Court and conservatives in the Capitol over several issues which include; school finance, abortion and the death penalty. http://kcur.org/post/get-ready-raucous-kansas-supreme-court-retention-race#stream/0 - KCUR, May 24, 2016
A major player in retention elections is a group representing the victims of the Carr brothers. They have created a website calling for the removal of four of five justices due to their previous rulings on the death penalty. http://www.kansansforjustice.com/
They have been at this for a while, and was the primary reason Justice Rosen and Justice Johnson did not gain a majority in Sedgwick county. See; http://www.sedgwickcounty.org/elections/election_results/Gen14/index.html
http://www.kansas.com/news/local/crime/article2651289.html - Wichita Eagle, Oct 10, 2014;
however, the non-retain camp is more than Kansans for Justice but also include Kansas House GOP, Better Judges for Kansas, See; http://www.betterjudgesforkansas.org/ and a group from Iowa called the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) who filed an ethics complaint against Justice Beier just last week. See; http://www.factdc.org/single-post/2016/08/19/FACT-Files-Kansas-Judicial-Ethics-Complaint.
Several news outlets have also picked up the issue. See; https://pjmedia.com/election/2016/08/24/kansas-judges-should-be-recalled-before-they-do-any-further-harm/ - PJ Media, Aug 24, 2016
http://cjonline.com/news/2016-08-22/iowa-organization-files-complaint-against-kansas-supreme-court-justice cjonline.com, Aug 22, 2016
Those supporting the justices have countered with a number of letters to the editor and news articles blasting the non-retain effort as a power grab by the governor. See; http://www.kake.com/story/32754982/ward-judicial-retention-vote-a-power-grab - KAKE, Aug 14, 2016
Last week a number of LTE appeared in newspapers around the state each urging retention of the Kansas Supreme Court justices. See all; http://www.kansascity.com/opinion/editorials/article98180512.html - Kansas City Star, Aug 27th
http://www.hutchnews.com/opinion/editorials/growing-effort-to-unseat-justices-warrants-critical-examination/article_b2c69545-b4ce-5689-ad1c-0d856a807054.html - Hutchnews, Aug 20, 2016
http://www.kcchamber.com/News-Room/Chamber-News/KC-Chamber-Board-Says-Keep-Kansas-Courts-Nonpoliti.aspx - KC Chamber, Aug 25, 2016
http://www.gctelegram.com/opinion/columnists/people-must-control-process/article_80c44f14-0a05-56a9-b14d-66e3c1dc835e.html - Garden City Telegram, Aug 24, 2016
For their part the justices have been out around the state hearing cases.
http://www.ctnewsonline.com/news/article_c29904de-5b69-11e6-a99c-072da5306278.html - Cowley Courier, Aug 5, 2016
They plan another hearing on October, 2016 in Hutchinson.
It is quite obvious that retention elections are going to be hotly contested this cycle. We have 10 weeks left before the general election so there is still time to educate yourself about the process and learn more about each judge or justice on the ballot. You can find more information about the process and the justices and judges up for retention by visiting the Kansas Bar Foundation site www.ourkansascourts.org . You can also view the results of a survey competed by a number of civic organizations about the individuals on the ballot this November. That site is http://www.kansasjudgereview.org/.