For the 22nd time in Kansas history the Kansas Legislature will
reconvene in Topeka for a Special Session. This is the fourth time
that the Legislature returned for a special session since agreeing to meet
yearly in 1967.
The primary reason for this unique experience is to debate changes to
Kansas’ "Hard 50” sentencing statute. Earlier this summer, the U.S. Supreme
Court ruled that "any element that increases the mandatory minimum is an
‘element’ that must be submitted to the jury.” See full text of Alleyne v. U.S., 133 S. Ct. 2151 (2013). In Kansas the trial judge decides whether the "Hard 50” sentence is
appropriate; however, to comply with this new ruling, the Kansas Legislature will
have to adopt a rule change allowing the jury to be the fact finders in "Hard
50” circumstances. See https://governor.ks.gov/media-room/media-releases/2013/07/26/governor-brownback-calls-special-legislative-session.
While this appears to be a simple and quick rule change, a number of
other issues have been thrown into the mix that may require the Legislature’s
attention. For instance, Kansans for Life would like the Legislature to take up
a fetal heartbeat law that failed to pass during the regular session. See http://www.shawneedispatch.com/news/2013/jul/29/kansas-abortion-group-sees-opportunity-special-ses/. This may be a hard sell since leadership has already taken that issue
off the table. See http://cjonline.com/news/state/2013-07-29/special-session-abortion-table-court-seat-play. However, Kansans for Life is a very influential group that may be
able to change enough minds and force the leadership’s hand.
President Barack Obama has nominated Kansas Supreme Court Justice
Nancy L. Moritz for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Justice Moritz
has served as a justice of the Kansas Supreme Court since 2011. During her
career, she has handled a broad array of legal matters before both state and
federal courts as an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Kansas, an appellate
coordinator for the District, and as a member of the Kansas Court of Appeals.
Justice Moritz was born in Beloit and was raised in the small community of
Tipton. She received her bachelor’s degree from Washburn University in Topeka
in 1982 and her juris doctorate from the Washburn University School of Law in
The most public issue to date is the possible truncated confirmation of
the 14th Court of Appeals judge. The newly enacted law requires the governor to
name a candidate for the vacant 14th position by Thursday, August 29. To date,
the governor has declined to share the names of any applicants and the ABA
recently issued a statement disputing Gov. Brownback’s take on appellate
selection. See http://cjonline.com/news/2013-07-30/aba-disputes-brownbacks-take-judicial-selection.
Should the governor utilize the statutorily allotted time to select a
candidate, the Senate Judiciary Committee would have less than six days to
convene a committee hearing, request public input, collect relevant information
on the candidate and hold a committee hearing before the start of the Special
Session on Tuesday, September 3. This would appear to be a very quick
turnaround for a significant position within the third branch of government. However,
Sen. Jeff King, Senate vice president and chair of the Senate Judiciary
Committee, has stated that he intends on completing a thorough review of the
candidate. How quickly this review is accomplished is the main question.
Needless to say several news articles and editorials find the summer
confirmation of a Court of Appeal’s judge using this new process curious.
Even with the
public paying special attention, the outcome seems to be inevitable and the
governor’s selection should earn quick confirmation. However, the new selection
process once deemed to be more open and representative appears less so.