Location: Halstead, Kansas, United States

This is my seventh year at Halstead which is also where I live with my wife and my soon to be two year old daughter.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

I Wish People Knew More History

Well, the Kansas Constitutional Crisis over school finance continues to heat up. The special legislative session will start this Wednesday and there are already four different plans to deal with the issue and some legislators are still talking about defying the court.

The Kansas Republican Assembly held a rally/protest against what they call "Activist Courts." The KRA is a far far far far far right wing group that claims to adhere to true conservative values but the more I read about them they seem to favor large government when it meets their social goals and small government when it opposes them (after all they support the death penalty which seems like a fairly large government invovlement). From reading their site I am fairly certain they would not have supported the Brown v Topeka Board of Education decision in 1954. Anyway the KRA has an online petition which says:

The Kansas Supreme Court overruled the voice of the people again on Friday, June 3, with its school finance ruling. It is time to stop these unelected and unaccountable judges by making them elected and accountable to the people they attempt to rule from the bench. Prior to 1958, judges were elected in Kansas. If you are in favor of a Constitutional amendment to have judges elected by the people in Kansas, please click here.

Currently, the Supreme Court memebers are chosen by a panel of lawyers and then approved by the Governor. I was wondering why the we changed from electing judges to the current method. After all, it would seem important to know the history of the issue before making any changes. What did my research show? The Kansas Bar Association had this:

Kansas was first admitted to the Union in 1861, at a time when elected judiciaries were the norm. However, dissatisfaction with the close interplay between political parties and judicial selection led to a series of reform efforts to transform judicial selection into a nonpartisan process. These efforts succeeded in 1958, when Kansas voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing merit selection of supreme court justices. The amendment's success can be attributed to the intensive lobbying efforts of the Kansas Bar Association and the political scandal aptly titled the "triple play of 1956."

The "triple play" involved Chief Justice Bill Smith, Governor Fred Hall, and Lieutenant Governor John McCuish. The Republican Party, traditionally the dominant political party in Kansas, suffered a major split just prior to the 1956 election. In that election, Governor Hall was defeated in the Republican primary by Warren Shaw, who then lost the general election to Democrat George Docking. Chief Justice Smith, a strong supporter of Hall, was seriously ill and contemplating retirement. However, he was concerned that if he retired after Docking took office in January 1957, Docking would appoint a Democrat to replace him. Smith, Hall, and McCuish devised a plan to prevent this. Chief Justice Smith resigned on December 31, 1956, followed by the resignation of Governor Hall on January 3, 1957. Lieutenant Governor McCuish was then sworn in as governor. The first and only official act of his 11-day tenure as governor was to appoint Hall as chief justice of the supreme court.

In the wake of the "triple play," Kansas adopted a merit plan for supreme court justices. The merit plan was later extended to the court of appeals and the district court, with individual districts having the option to move to merit selection or maintain partisan elections. The majority of judicial districts in Kansas have chosen merit selection.

There have also been problems with the election of Justices in Missouri with political booses trying to control the selection process. I am concerned that people at the KRA are striving for a solution that will probably lead to larger problems. Its too bad school is not in session right now because it would be great learning opportunity for all of my students and I am sure the debates at the lunch table would be heated.


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