Courts in cross hairs

In most general elections, evaluating judgeships is often the “flyover” section of the ballot. It’s easy to skip because most voters don’t know the judges by name and really have no standard by which to evaluate them for retention or dismissal.

This year, the issue has changed. While the five justices to the Kansas Supreme Court will be on the ballot for retention or dismissal, at stake is not just their professional careers, but the principle of having fair and impartial courts in Kansas.

How serious is the issue? Earlier this month four former Kansas governors boarded a bus to raise awareness for fair and impartial courts. The governors are responding to a series of unprecedented political attacks on the courts and the need to keep politicians out of the courts.

The bipartisan coalition included Republican former governors Bill Graves and Mike Hayden and Democrats Kathleen Sebelius and John Carlin. Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Republican, supported the effort to retain the justices but was unable to join the tour.

These former governors agree that retention of the five justices to the Kansas Supreme Court is the most important state issue on voters’ ballots this November, and they are encouraging every Kansan to complete their ballot and vote “yes” to retain state judges and justices.

“As former governors, we understand the unique roles of the three branches of government,” Graves said. “We may not have always agreed with them, but we respected that the judicial branch is a non-political branch accountable to the constitution. The courts provide a critical check and balance on the other two branches and we want to keep this constitutional balance.”

While on tour, the governors discussed the political attacks on the court by Gov. Sam Brownback and his legislative allies, which have not served Kansans well.

Said Sebelius: “The politicians who are attacking the courts are doing so because they want to replace these judges with ones more concerned with a political agenda than with protecting the Kansas Constitution and the rights given to every Kansan in our constitution.”

If nothing else, it should alarm each and every conscientious voter that this issue has alarmed the governors participating in this bipartisan response.

Carlin said if Brown­back and his allies get their way and the justices are ousted, “The hole this administration has dug for us may be too deep to get out of…. The possibility of one governor appointing five of the seven justices to the Kansas Supreme Court is distressing.”

The governors say this retention election could impact the court for the next 30 years.

As Carlin noted, “This is not the Brownback Supreme Court, it is the Kansas Supreme Court, and that is the way it should stay.”

Kansas citizens, we are facing a threat to the future of fair and impartial courts in our state and to the system of checks and balances in state government. Vote to retain our Kansas Supreme Court justices, and say no to politicized courts. —DR

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