Former Kansas Attorney General Steve Six could soon be back in a black robe after earning a presidential nod to become a federal appeals court judge, but with dozens of nominees awaiting confirmation in the U.S. Senate, it was unclear Thursday how quickly that might happen.
President Obama nominated the Democrat to sit on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday, four months after Six lost his attorney general seat amid a wave of Republican election victories in Kansas. Six, a former county judge whose father was a Kansas Supreme Court justice, started his law career as a clerk at the 10th Circuit and said he was honored by Obama's decision.
Kansas' two U.S. senators, Republicans Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts, joined other politicians and state officials congratulating Six on Thursday but were mum on whether he would have their support. Both would only say they were looking forward to the Senate confirmation hearings.
"I take the Constitutional authority of the Senate very seriously and look forward to having an in-depth conversation with him during the confirmation process," Moran said in an e-mail. Added Roberts: "I congratulate former Attorney General Six on this nomination and I look forward to his confirmation hearings."
There are currently 95 vacancies in the federal judiciary, including 17 on appeals courts nationwide, and 43 nominees were awaiting confirmation as of Thursday, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts' website. Republicans have been criticized for stalling many of Obama's nominations, and nominees for federal appeals courts typically face more scrutiny than federal district judges.
Six is likely to be no exception. In a brief statement, Six said he was "deeply honored to be nominated" but wouldn't comment on what he expected during the confirmation hearings or even venture a guess on when it might occur.
"He's got the experience," said Kansas House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Republican attorney from Hutchinson, noting Six's "good pedigree" as the son of former state Supreme Court Justice Fred Six. "He's very bright."
Steve Six, 45, was a Douglas County District Court judge in Lawrence from 2005 until his 2008 appointment as Kansas attorney general by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who is now secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services.
He worked for a Kansas City law firm between 1994 and 2005, following his work as a judicial law clerk to Judge Deanell Tacha on 10th Circuit Court of Appeals from 1993 to 1994. He graduated in 1993 from the University of Kansas School of law, second in his class.
Six has been working at the Lawrence law firm of Stevens & Brand since January.
While attorney general, Six refused to join other states in a legal challenge to the federal health care law, saying during last year's campaign that it would consume resources better spent in Kansas. Six lost the election for attorney general in November to Republican Derek Schmidt, who joined the lawsuit shortly after taking office.
During a campaign debate, Six said he worked for three years to turn around the attorney general's office, which he said had a "history of pursuing political agendas" of the attorney general in office that caused consumer and Medicaid fraud to go unchecked.
He was referring primarily to Republican Phill Kline, elected attorney general in 2002, who focused on investigating abortion clinics. Kline was defeated by Democrat Paul Morrison in 2006, who resigned amid a sex scandal, leading to Six's appointment.
During last year's campaign, Six touted his success in recovering more than $15.6 million for consumers the previous year. Recovery of Medicaid fraud went from less than $1 million under Kline to nearly $22 million that year. At the same time, he noted that his office's budget was cut by 43 percent as the cost of protecting Kansans was shifted to criminals and scam artists.
Statistics released in the last days of Six's tenure showed his office recovered at least $25 million for consumers and the state's Medicaid program in the last six months of 2010.
Perhaps the most controversial case that Six's office handled was one he inherited from his predecessor against George Tiller, a Wichita abortion provider who was fatally shot in May 2009. Shortly before his death, Tiller was acquitted by a jury on misdemeanor charges related to late-term abortions that required an independent, second opinion.
Six's former deputy attorney general, Barry Disney, prosecuted the case and said after the verdict that the case needed to be tried so the issue would be resolved. Disney said at that time that Six had instructed him to take "hard blows, but not foul blows" in the state's prosecution of the case.
Disney said late Wednesday that he was thrilled about Six's nomination to the appeals court.
"He is a very caring person whose integrity, work ethic and legal abilities are above reproach," Disney said. "He will make an excellent justice."