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Since 2010, foes of merit selection in Kansas have pushed a bill that would eliminate the nominating commission for the Court of Appeals and give the governor the power to appoint those judges directly, pending federal-style Senate confirmation. The measure passed in the House in 2011, but stalled in the Senate. The League of Women Voters has been carefully monitoring its status, and on February 24, 2012, the Senate finally revisited the bill, under pressure from advocacy group Kansans for Life.
Facing bipartisan opposition, the proposal failed on a 17-22 vote, with legislators citing concerns about maintaining the separation of powers. Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, "Make no bones about it, if we pass this bill and give this authority to the governor or any other governor, what we are doing is giving the executive branch control of the third branch of government." Others, such as Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, pointed to the federal system as an unenviable, gridlocked mess. Still others argued that the new method would not, as suggested, further the pro-life cause: one anti-abortion senator noted that the federal process appointed the judges who ruled in Roe v. Wade.
The League of Women Voters of Kansas applauds the Senate for considering the impact of the decision on judicial independence.
Across the country, Leagues are raising their voices on voting rights, redistricting, clean air and water, campaign funding and more. From Massachusetts to Florida, New York to Kansas and points in between, Leagues are busy educating and advocating.
Date: May 3, 2011
Location: Johnson County Courthouse, Johnson County, Kansas
Partners: Johnson County Bar Association
The goal of the League of Women Voters of Johnson County in hosting a Law Day program for students was to engage diverse young people in middle schools to educate them about employment opportunities within the judicial system. Five middle schools participated in the project. Judge Stephen Tatum addressed the students regarding what his job entailed and about how and why he became a judge, what classes might be of interest to them, and the judicial process and courtroom procedures. The students had an opportunity to ask questions regarding his experiences in the courtroom and cases that he had heard. They were then encouraged to visit various tables set up within the hallways and attend other programs, such as forensics labs and mock courts, offered in various parts of the courthouse. Students were given bags which held pens, literature, and wristbands. At this time they also were given lunch boxes and photos were taken for them to keep as a memento of Law Day.
In a historic first, the Kansas Supreme Court and Court of Appeals will travel outside Topeka to hear oral arguments in cases as part of a public outreach program.
The Kansas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on cases in Salina on April 13, 2011, then Greensburg on September 28, 2011, then Wichita on September 29, 2011. The court proceedings will be open to the public and available live online on the the Kansas Judicial Branch website.
In March and April 2011, judges from the Kansas Court of Appeals, which traditionally sits in Topeka, will visit the communities of Pittsburg, McPherson, and Leavenworth to hear appeals, and participate in a variety of official outreach programs while in the area that target local students and citizens. In September 2011, the Court of Appeals will hear cases at Wichita State University in Wichita; Washburn University in Topeka; Kansas City Community College in Kansas City, Kansas; and Barton Community College in Salina as part of the schol’s observation of Constitution Day. In October and November, 2011, the Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in Colby, Kingman, Salina, and Douglas.
Date: March 25, 2011
Location: Topeka, Kansas
Partners: Kansas Office of Judicial Administration; American Judicature Society
Trust-based ties with the Office of Judicial Administration allowed the League of Women Voters of Kansas to co-sponsor a day-long training for 60 judicial nominating commissioners from across the state. The effort was carried out by three entities, the American Judicature Society (AJS), the League of Women Voters, and the Office of Judicial Administration. Rachel Caufield (AJS) led the discussion, which focused on best practices for nominating commissions, with a particular focus on the impact of diversity on all stages in the judicial selection process.
Date: March 24, 2011
Location: Dillon House, Topeka, Kansas
Event: Press conference
Partners: Kansas Office of Judicial Administration
The League of Women Voters of Kansas held a press conference in Topeka to share the results of the ongoing education campaign. The event featured Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss as keynote speaker (the text of his remarks is now available online), as well as Professor Jeffrey Jackson of Washburn University, who presented the results of his research on gender diversity on the Kansas bench.
The conference was covered by local television stations WIBW and KTKA.
In January 2011, Professor Jeffrey Jackson of Washburn University School of Law completed a comprehensive gender diversity study of Kansas, commissioned by the League of Women Voters of Kansas, which is now available on the Social Science Research Network.
Professor Jackson’s research showed that the League’s campaign had been most effective at the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals level, with both courts only recently becoming reasonably gender-diverse. While many district courts had also attained reasonable gender diversity, the study showed where there is work left to be done: districts where judges are elected and small districts represented by three or fewer judges were most likely to still be non-representative. Professor Jackson’s findings led him to conclude that, statistically, commission-based selection districts provide better opportunity for female judges to be selected in Kansas.
Date: January 12, 2011
Location: Salina Public Library’s Community Learning Center, Salina, Kansas
Partners: Salina Central High School
Funded by the League of Women Voters of Salina, four Advanced Placement U.S. History high school students at Salina Central High School did extracurricular research on the history of judicial diversity and the civil rights movement at the Eisenhower Library, under the guidance of Salina Central teacher Deidre Hoff. The students found that Eisenhower's decision to appoint more women and minorities to the federal bench helped lay the foundation for court rulings that expanded civil rights and dismantled segregation. They presented the result of their research at the event (via Powerpoint presentations).
The program was covered in the Salina Journal.
By: Cynthia Padera
By: Cynthia Padera