The Faulty Kansas Supreme Court Nomination Process

The following is a letter to the editor from Kansans for Life’s Director of Government Relations, Jeanne Gawdun, regarding the faulty Kansas Supreme Court nominating process.

Dear Editor,

Wichita State University Emeritus Professor H. Edward Flentje’s recent diatribe against pro-life Kansans demands a response.

Kansans for Life is the state’s largest pro-life organization, and our members come from all walks of life. What unites us is our respect for human life, born and preborn, and our desire to protect the vulnerable among us.

The people of Kansas have a right to self-govern, and we exercise that right by electing legislators to represent us at the statehouse on a variety of issues, including abortion.

In the 1980s and 90s, Wichita was the “late-term abortion capital of the world,” and abortionists in Kansas were racking up injuries, even deaths, in clinics with conditions deemed “worse than Third World.”  There was strong public outcry and legislators received a mandate from the people to act. With bi-partisan majorities the legislature adopted reasonable regulations on the abortion industry, which had proven that it could not police itself.

Now, the state Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Hodes & Nauser v. Schmidt treats abortion as if it is a legislative “third rail”– off limits to negotiation, compromise, and statute– by the people of Kansas through their elected officials.

Kansas citizens have no role in the selection of state Supreme Court justices, and there is no guarantee of an independent judiciary with the inherently political nature of the lawyer-dominated Nominating Commission. The Commission has created an activist Supreme Court, that, in reality, is answerable to no one.

Contrast that with the process for selecting judges to the Kansas Court of Appeals. The people have a voice through their elected Senators, who, in the confirmation hearings, are not hesitant to ask tough questions of a nominee. Consider the Judge Jeff Jack fiasco. Even the governor’s self-created “quasi-nominating commission” did not uncover information about Jack’s profane, partisan comments on social media.  Had Jack been up for a seat on the state Supreme Court, he might already be sitting on the bench.

In the interest of transparency, Kansans for Life chose to inform the public of the pro-abortion ideologies of some of the applicants for the current open seat on the state Supreme Court. Shawnee County District Court Judge Evelyn Wilson’s family has a long history of contributing heavily to Governor Kelly and other pro-abortion politicians. The fact that her occupation was listed on some of her husband’s donations was strange and certainly called into question the independence of those contributions.

During the candidate interviews, the attorney members of the Nominating Commission failed to ask any hard questions, whether in an effort to avoid being seen as attacking their peers or out of concern for a future appearance in front of a candidate who is a sitting judge.

Watching the bizarre voting process, it was apparently a foregone conclusion that Wilson would be on the panel of three names sent to the governor.  When four candidates had each received a majority of the 9-member commission’s votes in the first round, instead of supporting a motion to forward the top three names to the governor, the commission decided to lawyer its way to a different result and continue voting for several more rounds.

The end result was that Wilson, who had never even received a majority of the commission’s votes until the belabored final round, ended up on the panel of three, while two of the four candidates whom the commission had previously found more qualified, did not.

Notably, Professor Flentje shares a last name with Gloria Flentje, a member of the nominating commission, who consistently voted for the applicants opposed by Kansans For Life.  While Professor Flentje did not disclose in his editorial any ties to a nominating commission member, if such ties exist, they may cast a shadow of doubt on what one might assume is his “unbiased” opinion.

The Supreme Court Nominating Commission’s convoluted voting process shows that its selection of justices for the state’s highest court is not based on “merit selection,” but rather, “smoke and mirrors selection.”

Jeanne Gawdun
KFL Director of Government Relations
Topeka, KS