Court-appointment system under fire on fall election ballot

Chief Justice Lawton Nuss: “I’ve gone on record in some op-ed pieces that I support our present system—it’s worked well for 60 years.”Kansas Supreme Court justices Lawton Nuss and Marla Luckert, as well as the other five justices on the Court, have been making school presentations once or twice a year since 2011.

This fall, they find themselves to be participants in a political challenge that highlights the constitutional role of checks and balances between the three branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial.

Nuss, Luckert and three other judges on the Court will be on the Nov. 8 ballot seeking to retain their seat on the state’s highest court.

Meanwhile, Gov. Sam Brownback and some of his supporters would like to change the justices being appointed to the Court from a selection committee comprised of attorney and judges to gubernatorial appointment.

“I’ve gone on record in some op-ed pieces that I support our present system—it’s worked well for 60 years,” Lawton said. “I have not critiqued other systems, I’ve just said this one has worked well. I support it and here’s the reasons why.”

The impetus for change originates with conservative Republicans in Topeka who believe the present system has produced an “activist court” that infringes on the governing authority of the legislature and executive branches.

“There are a lot of people in Kansas who do not understand that we’re not making decision based on what we personally feel about something,” Nuss said about the purpose of the Court. “We’ve sworn an oath to support the constitution, and the constitution controls whatever we’re going to do.”

Luckert added: “I don’t know if anybody has figured out a real metric for what is ‘an activist judge’— everybody’s definition varies. I think it’s most often used when you have that tension between the three branches of government. But that’s exactly what our system was set up to establish, checks and balances. The (other two branches) have the ability check us, and vice versa.”

Nuss and Luckert have served together on the Kansas Supreme Court for some 14 years and say they have helped on more than 3,000 cases.

“We just like to emphasize that we (justices) should be examined based on our whole body of work, and not on a case that somebody over here doesn’t like, or another case that somebody over there doesn’t like,” Nuss said.

“We ask the people to look at the whole deal.”

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