Posted By Joseph N. Molina III,
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Updated: Monday, September 12, 2016
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About the Author
Joseph N. Molina III
Legislative Services Director
Why am I being asked to vote on judges?
The Kansas Constitution requires Kansas Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeal judges to be placed on the ballot every six years (4 yrs. for the COA) so voters can determine whether they should remain on their courts for term. These are called “retention” elections. This year, five Supreme Court justices and six court of appeal judges will be on the ballot.
What do “Yes” and “No” votes mean?
A “Yes” vote means you want the judge or justice to remain on the court for another six-year term. A “No” vote means you want the judge or justice removed from the court. The majority of voters in the November general election decides.
Do Supreme Court justices have opponents?
No. 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).
How do Supreme Court justices get on the court?
For the Supreme Court, the governor appoints justices from lists submitted by Kansas Judicial Nominating Commission, which screens candidates and make recommendations based on the candidate’s merits – legal writing, temperament, references and experience. Newly appointed judges appear on the next statewide ballot. If the voters retain them, they then go on the ballot again every six years.
Which courts are subject to merit retention elections?
The Kansas Supreme Court, Kansas Court of Appeals and a little more than half of all district court judges are subject to merit retention elections.
Can judges who commit unethical acts be removed from office?
Yes. This can happen after an investigation by the Kansas Commission of Judicial Qualifications. The KSJQ (http://www.kscourts.org/Appellate-Clerk/general/commission-on-judicial-qualifications/default.asp is an independent agency created to investigate alleged misconduct by Kansas judges and justices. Through this system, judges have been removed from office.
Can Kansas Supreme Court justices state their views on issues that may come before them?
No, Judicial Cannon #4 of the Kansas Code of Judicial Conduct forbids judges and justices from saying how they will decide future cases. Judges and justices must remain impartial and decide cases without regard to their personal views or beliefs. (See, http://www.kscourts.org/rules/Judicial_Conduct/Canon%204.pdf)
Can I read the opinions of the judges and justices in cases they decided?
Yes. Case opinions can be found on the Cases & Opinions page of the websites for the Kansas Judicial Branch, http://www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/default.asp
Can I watch videos of the justices and appeals court judges at work?
Yes. Court arguments are webcast live and archived on the court websites.
How can I learn more about judges’ and justices’ backgrounds?
Biographies are on court websites, accessible through http://www.kscourts.org/kansas-courts/supreme-court/justice-bios/default.asp.
How did Kansas decide to use the merit retention election system?
In the 1956, Kansas experienced a highly controversial appointment of Gov. Fred Hall to the Kansas Supreme Court in what has been called the “triple play”. In that, incumbent Governor Fred Hall was defeated in the 1956 Republican primary by Warren Shaw, who lost in the general election to George Docking. Then Chief Justice Smith resigned from the Supreme Court due to ill health on December 31, Hall quickly resigned as governor on January 3, 1957, and Lieutenant Governor McCuish became governor for the next eleven days. McCuish immediately appointed Hall to the newly vacated Supreme Court seat. While perfectly legal, this sequence of actions was considered by many to be highly unethical. In response to the "triple play," the 1957 Kansas legislature passed a resolution for a constitutional amendment concerning the way judges are appointed, creating the merit selection process. The amendment was passed in the 1958 general election.
Where can I find results from prior merit retention elections?
Past retention election results can be found on the Kansas Secretary of State’s website. www.kssos.org
Which judges and justices are up for retention election this year?
The following individuals are up for nonpartisan retention election this November:
Kansas Supreme Court Justices
- Chief Justice Lawton R. Nuss;
- Justice Marla J. Luckert;
- Justice Carol A. Beier;
- Justice Dan Biles; and;
- Justice Caleb Stegall.
Kansas Court of Appeal Judges
- Judge Steve Leben;
- Judge G. Joseph Pierron;
- Judge David E. Burns;
- Judge G. Gordon Atcheson;
- Judge Karen Arnold-Burger;
- Judge Kathryn A. Gardner
Does the state put out any information on the justices, who are up for retention, performances?
No, the state of Kansas previously held surveys administered by the Kansas Judicial performance commission. Due to budget issues and the high cost of these surveys, the commission was dissolved in 2012. A group of civic organizations have taken over this role and their results can be found at www.kansasjudgereview.org.
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