I read articles in the Great Bend Tribune where Justices of the Kansas State Supreme Court such as Justice Marla Luckert and Chief Justice Lawton R. Nuss visited the Barton County and Rice County Courthouses as well as the Saints Mary and Martha Episcopal Church in Larned, with an upcoming “special session” of the State’s High Court in Hutchinson planned for Oct. 4.
I commend the Justices on their “speaking tour” where they answered questions from individual citizens and I also applaud them for bringing “special sessions” up-close and personal in various venues outside of Topeka whereby the “average citizen” can observe the proceedings and get a taste for our Judicial System in a real-world scenario instead of an invisible or abstract concept that most people only know via old dusty school textbooks or snippets of condensed-reports given via sound bytes on television.
I wasn’t able to attend any of the Justices speaking-tours, thus far. I noticed in one Great Bend Tribune article that Chief Justice Nuss stated that his father was “born in Barton County.” That is reassuring since my late mother Gloria (Riedl) Marples and her twin-sister Dolores (Riedl) Myers were born in Great Bend. Putting that aside, if I had been able to ask Chief Justice Nuss and/or Justice Luckert a question I would have kindly asked them a two-fold question: “Why should we (voters) retain you on the Bench”; and secondly: “Should Kansas Supreme Court Justices have term-limits or age limits?” In my youth, I liked how the Judiciary, even including the federal U.S. Supreme Court has no term-limits and no age-limits. However as an adult, I know that our longevity is changing and various diseases, even including “old age” can limit or impair cognitive ability, reaction time and alertness. Even on the federal bench Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has reportedly “fallen asleep.” To me, that is not conducive for fair and swift justice. I fully support the old phrase “Justice should be Blindfolded”, however, I don’t think Justices should be asleep!
In theory, a lifelong tenure with no age limits on a State High Court or the U.S. Supreme Court was intended to give the respective Courts total immunity from being labeled partisan. Yet, I often think our Judiciary is crippled. It is polarized in some respects. Governor Brownback would like his allies to form coalitions to actively vote-out Kansas Supreme Court Justices that don’t tend to “agree with a particular agenda.” That, too, is wrong. Years ago, in the past, I have tended to “not retain” Justices since I believe turnover is healthy. However, if a good judge or justice served with distinction and merit, I admit, I’d vote to retain. I think Kansans need explanations from the Justices as to why they are “deserving” to be kept. Conversely, I am not opposed to say a 10 year limit on any Justice’s term-of-office. That allows a good Justice to “stay on.” Yet, I believe 10 years is “enough.” It’s 1/10th of a century. Our Society, technology, transportation and even crimes have changed over the past 10 years. Things such as cyber-security and Social Media crimes were almost unheard of prior 10 years ago. Facebook itself didn’t even exist prior to the year 2004. Under my plan, Justices would show merit, but keep up with the times. Our population is such to support regular turnover. Again, I believe good Justices should be allowed to be re-elected if the voters remain pleased with performance. But whether it is a 10 year term or age 75 (whichever comes first), I believe “fresh blood” and new Justices are healthy from time to time. We can retain the current nominating commission made up of attorneys who forward three names to the Governor to select from. I realize Gov. Brownback would like to have total control himself. But, as Chief Justice Nuss noted, the current system came into being after “political shenanigans of the late 1950’s.” Somehow, we need a fair and balanced system for the year 2016 and beyond.
James A. Marples