Chief Justice Lawton Nuss and Justice Marla Luckert from the Kansas Supreme Court spoke in McPherson Wednesday as they continue to make their rounds across the state in preparation for November’s general election.
Chief Justice Nuss catered some of his speech to his audience, which consisted mainly of local businessmen, industry leaders, and justices and judges from the McPherson area. However, a lot of focus was on becoming informed about the upcoming election and the decision voters will have to make.
“Five of the seven justices will be on the ballot,” Chief Justice Nuss said, restating what his audience well knew. “And you’ll get the opportunity to go in the voting booth and decide if you want to keep Marla Luckert -- or not, or to keep Lawton Nuss -- or not.
“And how you decide whether you want to get rid of her or me, or if you want to keep her or me,” he continued on lightheartedly, drawing laughter from the audience. “Or keep her and not me -- whatever, that certainly is your prerogative.
“We only ask that you exercise your right to vote,” he said, serious again. “And we hope that you would be better informed after tonight as to what to look for when you’re going in to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”
This year is what’s called a retention election year for five of the seven justices on the Kansas Supreme Court. That means come November, Kansas voters will be given a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ choice on the ballot that will determine whether or not each justice is kept in office for another six-year term. Each of the five justices must receive a majority of ‘yes’ votes in order to be retained.
Chief Justice Nuss asked his audience to keep in mind the big picture of what it is the justices do during any given year and to not just pay attention to what makes the headlines.
“When you hear about one case or another case that gets a lot of media attention, I ask that you keep in mind that that’s one of more than 3,000 cases that we reviewed.
“If you hear about a case in the headline,” he said. “Or see in the headline or hear about on the radio and TV -- that is one tiny piece of the work that the Supreme Court does.”
For her part, Justice Luckert encouraged the audience to become informed by checking out all the information that’s available for each justice online, with every decision the Supreme Court makes also there for the public to read or view for themselves.
“All of our written opinions are available,” said Justice Luckert. “They’re on the kscourts.org website. There are the cases that we have authored for the court, and you can click on those and you can read cases.
“Especially some that you may hear about, you may be curious about,” she added. “Obviously, it takes time on your part, but if you have that interest or curiosity, I think it really helps you understand the cases that might be talked about.”
Justice Luckert also gave a reminder that all of the oral arguments that the justices hear are available online as well for the public to listen to for themselves, either in video or audio form.
“We take an oath,” Justice Luckert asserted. “And that oath is that we will uphold the constitution of the United States and the constitution of Kansas and the laws of the state.
“And to implement that oath, we start with the presumption that any law that comes before us is constitutional law. And the words of the legislature are the words that bind us, even if we think it is bad policy, or really -- let’s just say it this way -- really stupid.
“That’s not our job [to make policy],” she clarified. “That’s why you elect legislators. Our job is to take those words they use, and to the best of our ability, figure out the intent that they had in writing those words, and then apply them to the law, to the facts of the case that is before us.”
Chief Justice Nuss and Justice Luckert on Wednesday did not directly address some of the high-profile cases for which Kansas Supreme Court Justices have been under fire recently; however, Justice Luckert did elaborate on the process used to come to their decisions.
She started by explaining, “It’s not even about what we believe. Sometimes the judges will tell you it just tears your heart out, it rips your heart out, to have to make a decision. But it’s the decision demanded by the law.
“And that is our job,” she said. “Not to impose our will or our thoughts.
“There are many, many rules and constraints on our decision-making process and of those of the judges who are sitting here in the room,” Justice Luckert continued. “We don’t go out and pick the issues that come to us. We limit our decision making on the briefs that are brought to us, the arguments that are made by counsel.”
Chief Justice Nuss and Justice Luckert closed by taking questions from the audience and reminding everyone that they are invited to schedule a visit to their offices in Topeka at any time.
“There’s no secret about where we do our work or what we do,” said Chief Justice Nuss, right before referencing – appropriately -- a popular metaphor from the Wizard of Oz. “I’m trying to lift the curtain up -- if you think there’s a curtain -- so you can see what’s going on.”
Historically, a Kansas justice has never failed to be retained on an election ballot. However, should that unprecedented event happen this November, applicants for the vacancy (or vacancies) will be vetted by a commission and the final appointment to fill the opening(s) will be made by Governor Brownback.
For more information about the Kansas Supreme Court Justices, the upcoming election, the Kansas Judicial Branch, the court system, and to access court rulings online, check out these websites: