Abortion foes seek to oust 5 Kansas Supreme Court justices

TOPEKA, Kans. (AP) – The most influential anti-abortion group in Kansas politics is urging mail-box voters to remove five of the seven state Supreme Court justices who declared access to abortion a fundamental right under the state constitution.

The group Kansans for Life was a key part of the campaign for a proposed amendment to the state constitution declaring that it does not recognize the right to abortion, which would have overturned a 2019 court ruling protecting abortion rights. The amendment would have allowed the Republican-controlled Legislature to greatly restrict or ban abortions, but voters decisively rejected it in August.

The group’s mailers list its recommendation to oust five justices but retain a sixth for the Nov. 8 vote for a yes-or-no vote on whether to remain on the Supreme Court for another six years. The group criticized the court long before the 2019 abortion decision and even opposed some potential appointees.

“A number of factors were considered, including activist opinions issued by these judges during their careers, political donation history and other information,” Kristina Smith, director of political action committee Kansans For Life.

In support of the proposed change, the group said on its website that in its 2019 decision, “the activist state’s highest court radically altered the Kansas Constitution.”

Kansans for Life has been influential in the state Republican Party for decades, and its mailers recommending its support to voters are an election-year staple. His latest mailers list his picks for federal, state and local races and started going out last week. The statement about the judges is the first public sign of organized opposition to them.

Abortion rights advocates had expected to push back on the effort after the proposed amendment failed and had been campaigning to keep it for weeks. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June that overturned Roe v. Wade and allowed states to ban abortions, Supreme Court races across the country have become more contentious and have become crucial for Democratic groups seeking to protect abortion rights.

But in Kansas, many advocates for retaining judges say it will protect the independence and impartiality of state courts. The lead group in the campaign is Keep Kansas Courts Impartial; his campaign is backed by major legal groups and is running television ads in the Kansas City, Wichita and Topeka markets.

“The executive and legislative branches are political in nature, so it is critical that our judiciary remain impartial and free from political pressure, interest groups or financial interests,” Deanell Reece Tacha, a former federal appeals court judge, said in a statement. this week.

Kansas Supreme Court justices are appointed by governors after the majority attorney reviews applications, with no role for the Legislature. The justices ask voters to keep them on the court every six years, and no justice has been removed from office in such a vote.

Of the six members of the court on the ballot, Chief Justice Marla Luckert and Justice Dan Biles had a 6-1 majority in the decision to protect abortion rights. Luckert was appointed by former Republican Gov. Bill Graves and Biles by former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. The two governors supported the retention campaign along with former Republican Mike Hayden and former Democratic Governor John Carlin.

Three of the six judges on the ballot were appointed by current Democratic Governor Laura Kelly after the 2019 decision. They are Judges Melissa Standridge, KJ Wall and Evelyn Wilson.

Kansans for Life is working to retain Judge Caleb Stegall. He was appointed by former Republican governor Sam Brownback and was an opponent of the 2019 abortion ruling. Groups that support the other judges also want to keep Stegall on the court.

The only justice not on the slate, Sebelius appointee Eric Rosen, will not face a retention vote until 2026.

Kansans for Life launched an unsuccessful “Reject All But Stegall” campaign in 2016, when five justices were on the ballot. In 2010, she also had an unsuccessful “Fire Beier” campaign against Judge Carol Beier, who is now retired.

“We always assumed there would be opposition at some point,” said Mike Swenson, spokesman for Keep Kansas Courts Impartial.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

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