Opinion Columns & Blogs

Don’t be misled on retention vote

By now, you’ve probably seen the yard signs around town urging you to “vote no on activist judges.” You may have read a flier about the Carr brothers case, urging you to tell a majority of our Kansas Supreme Court justices, “You’re fired.” The details in these messages are sparse, so what do they really mean?

You’re being misled. Don’t fall for it.

The political motivations driving most of these messages have nothing to do with the outcome of any criminal case. But these horrendous and despicable crimes could trigger the type of immediate emotional response necessary to sway your vote.

Talk of funding mechanisms and policy-based governmental regulations probably won’t. And they know it.

Make no mistake: The silent catalysts behind this endeavor are urging Kansans to do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons.

This is not about the merits of the underlying political goals at play. As a lawyer who has seen what an unbiased court system means to our citizens, I’m here to tell you what you can expect if they’re successful.

The makeup of our state’s two appellate courts – the Kansas Court of Appeals and the Kansas Supreme Court – would be completely transformed. The new judges would be fully aware that their positions opened because their predecessors’ votes in certain cases were not popular.

The message to these new judges will be obvious: Apply the law only when it will lead to a popular result.

When political pressure sparked by our elected officials permeates the deepest recesses of our court system, the most instrumental component of our democracy – separation of powers – has been defeated. Politically induced court opinions are the kissing cousin of pay-to-play politics.

When you fight a city ordinance in court or urge the governor to veto a bill, checks and balances are at work. If you’ve ever told your elected official that he or she needed to fix something to improve some aspect of your life, separation of powers was implicated.

Our system of arm’s length transactions is not to be periodically bent and twisted on a whim to accomplish an isolated goal or deliver a single desired result, for even an occasional crippling will reverberate for years to come.

By all means, vote your conscience on Nov. 8. It’s your constitutional right. But do a bit of research first.

Find out whether Court of Appeals judges have a vote on the Supreme Court – you’ll find they don’t. Research the qualifications of all the jurists on the ballot – you’ll find they’re impressive. And ask how many guilty verdicts our appellate courts have upheld in murder cases lately – you’ll find the number is substantial.

If you’re going to fire our judicial branch because of something you read, please make sure you know why you’re doing it. Our democracy depends on it.

Blake Shuart is an attorney in Wichita.

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