Kansas Supreme Court justices retained in November vote

An advocacy group says the decision to retain was important for democracy

by Rachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector
November 9, 2022

TOPEKA — Kansans voted to keep all six state Supreme Court justices up for retention on the November ballot. The justices were returned with over 60% voter support, including two who voted in favor of abortion rights.

Kansas Supreme Court justices on the ballot were Daniel Biles, Marla Luckert, Evelyn Wilson, Caleb Stegall, K.J. Wall and Melissa Standridge, six out of the seven total state Supreme Court justices.

Luckert and Biles voted to protect abortion rights in a 2019 ruling that said the Kansas Constitution’s right to bodily autonomy includes the decision to terminate a pregnancy. Stegall, who was appointed by former Gov. Sam Brownback, dissented in the abortion ruling. Standridge, Wall and Wilson were appointed by Gov. Laura Kelly after the 2019 decision. Kansas Supreme Court justice Eric Rosen won’t face a retention vote until 2026.

The debate around judicial retention intensified after rejection of the August abortion amendment, which would have declared that women don’t have a state constitutional right to abortion. Following the vote, anti-abortion activists have been campaigning to oust Supreme Court justices that didn’t align with their views.

Kansas uses a merit-based screening process for Supreme Court justices. A nine-member commission reviews applicants and sends three nominees to the governor, who makes the final pick. After serving for a year, new justices are placed on the ballot for a retention vote and then subject to retention votes every six years. The merit-based system has been in place since the 1950s.

Voter Ken Farrar said he voted “no” on retaining all the judges on principle, saying he wanted to make sure judges were in touch with the Kansas public.

“It’s the easy thing to do to just keep them in play,” Farrar said. “Go back to practicing law, be a commoner again.”

Fellow voter Troy Squire said he voted out all but one justices, saying he wanted to make sure there was accountability in the system.

“I’ll always vote them out if I don’t know what they’re doing especially,” Squire said.

Both said this decision wasn’t made in regard to abortion rights, but rather out of a desire for transparency.

Advocacy group Keep Kansas Courts Impartial released a statement in support of retention, saying Kansans had chosen to prevent governmental overreach.

“We applaud the voters of Kansas for their wisdom in voting to retain the six Supreme Court Justices on the ballot Tuesday,” the statement read. “Kansans have sent a clear message that they want the Judicial Branch of government to remain impartial and free from political pressure and interest groups. The election results mean that Kansans want their Justices to do their jobs and hold politicians accountable to the people and to the Kansas Constitution.”

Ahead of the election, right-leaning political strategists have been accused of sending mailers meant to confuse voters on judicial retention. One mailer sent out seemed to be pro-choice, saying that Kansans had showed their support for abortion rights and needed to show this pro-choice support again.

On the other side of the mailer, it said to “vote no” on judicial retention, in a attempt to seemingly trick voters into voting against justices who had supported abortion rights.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Derek Nester
Derek Nesterhttp://www.sunflowerstateradio.com
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2020 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.


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