“I am going to research their values, but when it comes to the law, they need to set aside their values. That’s kind of a difficult question. What to research?”
This is a strange election year. Nationally it’s Trump v Clinton and the Senate’s up for grabs. But it’s even weirder for judges in Kansas. It’s a retention election, which means it’s not two candidates squaring off against each other. Instead, it’s voters deciding whether they want to keep a justice on their state’s Supreme Court, or not. Yes or no. Up or down. A bunch of states use retention elections and for decades, they’ve been uneventful, low-key affairs. No big money. No negative ads.
On October 4th, the justices on the Kansas Supreme Court traveled to Hutchinson, a small town in central Kansas. The seven men and women donned their black robes and took the bench in a community college auditorium to hear oral arguments in upcoming cases. This is pretty much the extent of campaigning the justices are allowed to do and for more than 50 years this has been enough.
But this year, many people in Kansas say they are disillusioned by several rulings the justices on Kansas’ highest court have made and now, they want to boot four of the five justices on the ballot, from the bench. Never before has a sitting justice on the Kansas Supreme Court not won a retention election. But as we all bear witness, 2016 is a different sort of election year.
In Part 4 of our series on A Fair Fight for a Fair Court, Life of the Law reporter Ashley Cleek takes us to Kansas for COURTING VOTERS.
Courting Voters was reported by Ashley Cleek and edited by Nancy Mullane with sound design and production by Shani Aviram. Our Post Production Editors are Kirsten Jusewicz-Haidle and Rachael Cain. Ceil Muller and Howard Gelman of KQED in San Francisco and Paul Ruest of Argot Studios in New York were our sound engineers.
Special Thanks to Hutchinson Community College and Lisa Taylor at the Kansas Supreme Court and Professor James Gibson of the Washington University for his scholarly advice.
Music in this episode is from Blue Dot Sessions.
Full Transcript of Courting Voters
- The Political War Against the Kansas Supreme Court
- A Kansas Group’s Push to Oust Judges Reveals a Gap in Campaign Finance Rules
- A judicial voter guide for Kansas
This episode of Life of the Law was funded in part by grants from the Open Society Foundations, the Law and Society Association, the Proteus Fund, the Ford Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.
Courting Voters was sponsored by Blue Apron and by Denial.
© Copyright 2016 Life of the Law. All rights reserved.