Former governors call for retention of Supreme Court justices


Moderator Reggie Robinson and former Kansas governors Kathleen Sebelius, Bill Graves, Mike Hayden and John Carlin hold a roundtable discussion Wednesday in Wichita. The governors called for retention of Kansas Supreme Court Justices.

TJ Rigg

Four former Kansas governors are calling to keep politicians out of state courts.

The bipartisan coalition consists of Republicans Bill Graves and Mike Hayden and Democrats Kathleen Sebelius and John Carlin. The governors held three media stops this week, including one in Wichita Wednesday morning. 

Sebelius said the four governors are alarmed by what they call an “unprecedented assault” on the Kansas Supreme Court.

“We have seen this legislature propose some 55 bills to do everything, including defunding the courts,” Sebelius said. 

The four are “responding to a series of unprecedented political attacks on the courts,” stated a news release from Kansans for Fair Courts, which sponsored the media tour. The governors also expressed their support for the retention of five justices to the Kansas Supreme Court, who are up for retention or removal in November. 

“All of us have had the responsibility of appointing justices,” Sebelius said. 

The news release states Gov. Mark Parkinson, a democrat who served as governor from 2009 to 2011, supports the effort to retain the justices, but was unable to join the tour. 

Graves added the four governors believe in the system of appointing the justices.

“We believe and respect the work they’ve done and the fair and impartial way they’ve gone about the business they’ve served,” he said.

In addition, Graves said the justices cannot campaign the same way that candidates for the legislature or governor do.

“They have to remain silent, that’s sort of their judicial conduct,” Graves said. “We’re the voices that want to convey the message to Kansans that the five individuals seeking retention to the Kansas Supreme Court are worthy of a yes vote in November.”

Hayden said the criminal case involving Jonathan and Reginald Carr, two brothers who murdered five people in December 2000, has been the spotlight on the effort not to retain the justices.

The Kansas Supreme Court announced it had overturned the Carr death sentences on appeal in 2014. The court ruled it did so because the trial judge failed to adequately separate the penalty proceedings for the brothers. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the sentencing case in 2015 after Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach appealed the state court’s ruling.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death sentences of the Carr Brothers. 

“What we have to ensure is every time someone comes before the court, that they do in fact have their day in court,” Hayden said. “That the court is fair and impartial and follows the law and the constitution.”

Hayden said the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the Kansas Supreme Court on the Carr brothers’ death penalty ruling proves the judicial system works.

“This is a court that has affirmed death penalty cases,” Graves added.

The roundtable discussion ended with a question from moderator Reggie Robinson, a professor at Kansas University’s school of public policy and administration, asking what the role of retention is. He also said the governors seemed to make a strong case about why it makes sense to vote yes on retention for the justices. 

“The Retention process is an important thing and it should remain in place to guard against malpractice or someone who abuses their power,” Hayden said. “There is no evidence that anyone on this court is abusing their power.”