The Kansas Meadowlark

July 3, 2006
(updated July 5, 2006)

Political Profile of Members of the
Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission:
6 Democrats, 2 Republicans, 1 Republican for Moore

A 1958 amendment to the Kansas Constitution created the Supreme Court Nominating Commission.  This group interviews candidates for openings on the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, and names three finalists.  The governor makes the final decision from these three finalist.  

Commission member David J Rebein explains Supreme Court Nominating Commission Goes To Work: Are You The Next Kansas Supreme Court Justice? in the Nov 2002 JoCo Bar newsletter.  

Unfortunately, this system provides little accountability.  Perhaps the makeup of this group has always been quite political, but rarely reported by the press.  The Governor can blame the commission for the nominations and takes no responsibility  The decision process of the Commission is unknown since it operates in secrecy without any oversight.    

What is known about the  members of the Supreme Court Nominating Commission?  The names of this Commission are listed on p. 99 of this PDF file (document page 188), Executive Offices, Departments, Boards and Commissions, from the Kansas Secretary of State.

Political Profile of Members of the
Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission
(April 1, 2006 with update for Carolyn Bird on July 3, 2006)

Do we want political activists picking the Supreme Court Justices in Kansas?

Chair, Elected Statewide by Attorneys
Richard C Hite, Republican, Wichita
Contributor to:  Graves $100, Praeger (from law firm) $1000
Member since 2001.  Term expires June 30, 2009

Elected by Attorneys Appointed by the Governor
1 David J Rebein, Republican, Dodge City; 
President of Kansas Bar Association

Contributor to:  Jerry Moran $500 ('05'); Pat Roberts $1500 ('05), $1000 ('02); Sam Brownback $1000 ('03); Kansas Republican State Committee $1000 ('06), $500 ('04), $2000 ('03), $2000 ('02), $1000 ('01)

Member since 2002.
Term expires June 30, 2006.
2002 election article

Carolyn Bird, Democrat, Hays

Contributor to:   Sebelius:  $150 ('02), $1000 ('03), $2000 ('05), $1000 (husband, '05), $2000 ( husband's law firm, '05)

Appointed by Sebelius in 2006.
Term expires June 30, 2010.

Appointed by Finney in 1993.

2 Thomas E. Wright, Democrat, Topeka; 
Board of Directors of Topeka Bar Association (2006)

Contributor to Sebelius $1000 ('05), $1000 ('02), $500 ('01), $100 ('96); John Kerry $250 ('04); Nancy Boyda $250 ('04); Dennis Moore $200 ('98)

Member since 2006? replacing Patricia E. Riley.
Term expires June 30, 2007?

"Jury Can Decide Whether Fetus Suffered In Abortion, Judge Says," Wichita Eagle, Feb 24, 1989: Thomas E. Wright, a Topeka attorney ... argued that a non-viable fetus was not a person within the meaning of the state's wrongful death statute.

Chair of the Topeka-Shawnee County Consolidation Commission (2005).

Another Sebelius connection?
Lawrence Journal-World, Oct 11, 1998.  Thomas E. Wright, partner in the law firm of Wright, Henson, Somers, [Keith Gary] Sebelius [husband of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius], Clark & Baker of Topeka, has been appointed to fill a vacancy on the Kansas Bar Assn.'s board of governors.

Dale E. Cushinberry, Democrat, Topeka

No known political contributions

In Topeka, as many as 123 Hispanic students were absent from Highland Park High School on Monday ...Principal Dale Cushinberry ... attended the protest to support students carrying Mexican flags April 11, 2006

Appointed by Sebelius in 2003.
Term expires June 30, 2007.

3 Thomas J. Bath, Jr. 
Republican for Moore '02 & '04, Overland Park

Contributor to Paul Morrison: $2000 ('05) + $2000 (wife, '05); David Adkins:  $100 ('00), $100 ('01), $200 ('02);  Dennis Moore $350 ('04), $300 ('03), $500 ('98); Phill Kline:  $400 ('02), $500 (wife, '02); John Vratil:  $100 (law office, '99); Chris Biggs $350+$100+$544+250 ('02); David Adkins $50 ('02), $150 ('01); State Rep Paul Davis $100 ('03); State Senator Laura Kelly $250 ('03), $250 ('04)

Member since 2000.
Term expires June 30, 2008.

Bath, a former assistant district attorney in Johnson County, was honored as Kansas prosecutor of the year in 1991, KC Star, Sept 6, 1994.

Vivien Jennings, Democrat, Fairway

Contributor to:  Dennis Moore $250 ('04), $250 ('03)

Rainy Day Books owner, Vivien Jennings, sponsored events in the Kansas City area for Bill Clinton (June 22, 2004), Hillary Clinton (April 12, 2003), Al & Tipper Gore (Nov 24, 2002), Caroline Kennedy (Sept 26, 2005), Jane Fonda (Apr 20, 2005), Michael Moore (Oct 7, 2004), John McCain (Dec 16, 2005).

Appointed by Sebelius in 2004.
Term expires June 30, 2008.

4 Lee H. Woodard, Democrat, Wichita

Contributor to:  Democratic Senate Candidates Brown $50 and Firestone $50.  Law Firm Contributions:  Sebelius $1000 ('03), $500 ('02), $500 ('01), $500 ('98).  Graves $1000 ('98), $500 ('96), $600 ('95); Carlos Nolla $250 ('02), $200 ('02); Nat'l Republican Congressional Committee $300 ('02)

Member since 2001.
Term expires June 30, 2009.

"It's the 2005 Weepers," Wichita Eagle, Dec. 31, 2005:  To the Wichita Bar Association and attorney Lee H. Woodard, who, despite the pleas from community groups and generous monetary offers, bulldozed the historic Fidelity Title building downtown to make way for a handful of parking spaces.

Dr. David N. Farnsworth, Democrat, Wichita

Contributor to: ProKanDo PAC  $100 (3/16/2004), Bob Knight $200 ('04);
Sedgwick County Democratic Party.

Appointed by Sebelius in 2005
Term expires June 30, 2009.

"Retired Dean Chosen to Pick Justices", Wichita Eagle, July 26, 2005


If there is a limit on the number of members of any one political party for the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, why is there no similar restriction on the members of the Supreme Court Nominating Commission?   Why is a single, minority, political party allowed to run such a Commission?  By her recent replacement of Republican Debbie Nordling with Democrat Carolyn Bird, Governor Kathleen Sebelius has now appointed all Democrats to the Supreme Court Nominating Commission.  

This might be a good system if attorneys were interested only in law and justice, and not politics and political agendas, and if the governor were more interested in fairness for all Kansans instead of appointing those that have given political money or will support political agendas.  But that simply is not the case.  The well-intentioned 1958 Kansas constitutional amendment has caused problems it was intended to fix, and now needs to be fixed itself.  

Do the "elected" attorneys represent themselves and other attorneys, or do they represent all the citizens?  Do the appointees represent the governor to whom they've given political contributions, or do they represent all the citizens?

Since the Supreme Court Nominating Commission appears to be a political, partisan, group, but is being hidden from the voters, why not bring this process into the light of day?  Why not let voters have a say in electing supreme court justices, instead of only retention elections?  Or, at least let's have have a public hearing about the qualifications of nominees to such an important governmental commission instead of the secrecy the surrounds this group so the wisdom of the Governor's appointments can have some public review?  Why not confirmation by the Kansas Senate?

The political makeup of the Supreme Court Nominating Commission parallels the political makeup of the Supreme Court itself:

Why do neither of these groups reflect the political makeup of Kansans?

Historical Notes about Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission:

Wichita Eagle, July 26, 2005

TOPEKA - A retired Wichita State University professor has been named to the commission that screens applications for the state's appellate courts and chooses finalists for vacancies.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius announced Monday that David Farnsworth of Wichita will serve a four-year term on the Supreme Court Nominating Commission. Farnsworth, 76, retired in 1996 after 40 years as a political science professo r at WSU, where he also served as an associate vice president and dean of liberal arts and sciences.  ...

The Supreme Court has faced criticism from some legislators because of its orders requiring additional money for public schools and declaring the state's death penalty law unconstitutional. As a result, some lawmakers have criticized the selection process, saying it gives the governor too much power. Some are backing a proposal to require Senate confirmation of new appointees to the appellate courts.

Sebelius appoints four of the nominating commission's nine members, and the other five are elected by lawyers, including the commission's chairman.

Farnsworth replaces Dennis Greenhaw of Independence, whose term expired June 30.

Wichita Eagle, Feb. 10, 2005

TOPEKA - A majority of state senators, upset that the state's death penalty and school funding laws were overturned by the Kansas Supreme Court, is seeking veto power over future court nominees.

Their push has the support of Attorney General Phill Kline, who said judges not accountable to the people "push their own agenda and bias through judicial activism."

The proposal drew criticism, however, from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as well as a constitutional law expert and some members of the independent commission that selects court nominees.

"It seems to me the Legislature has some sort of political litmus test in mind," said Lee Woodard, a Wichita lawyer who serves on the state's Supreme Court Nominating Commission. Voters approved the independent commission in 1972.

JoCo Bar newsletter, Nov 2002

This newsletter mentions that Sue Bond, wife of then State Senate President Dick Bond, had been on the Supreme Court Nominating Commission from 1996-2004.  Through his wife, did Dick Bond affect the current make up of the Kansas Supreme Court?

Wichita Eagle, July 14, 1995

As of July 1, the Supreme Court Nominating Commission has three new members. They are: former Secretary of State Jack Brier of Topeka, who replaced Edwin Wilson of Atchison; Thomas E. Wright, a Topeka attorney who took the place of Jerry Palmer; and John Bukaty, a Kansas City, Kan., attorney who replaced Patrick McAnany, now a Johnson County judge.

Carry-over members are Chairman Lynn Johnson, Overland Park; Lowel Hahn, Phillipsburg; Carolyn Bird, Hays; John Strick, Kansas City, Kan.; Arden Bradshaw, Wichita; and Pat Lehman, Wichita.

[Note:  Jerry Palmer was nominated by Bill Graves, but Palmer gave $6000 to Kathleen Sebelius ('99-'05), $1000 to Paul Morrison ('05),  $333 to Democratic Party ('03).

A July 22,2005 Topeka Capital Journal article:  "Five of six investors in River Ridge LLC ... contributed to Sebelius' previous political campaigns. Since 2001, the group's most prolific donors  [including ...] Jerry Palmer  collectively donated at least $15,000 to further the governor's career.]

Wichita Eagle, July 2, 1993

TOPEKA Gov. Joan Finney announced on Thursday her four appointees to the reconstituted state Supreme Court Nominating Commission. The commission nominates candidates for appointment to the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, and the governor chooses the justices and judges.

Named were Carolyn Bird, a history professor at Fort Hays State University; the Rev. Edwin Watson, a Catholic schools educator from Atchison; former state Sen. John Strick of Kansas City, Kan.; and Pat Lehman, a labor leader from Wichita. Each represents one of the state's four congressional districts.

Why is the Wichita Eagle the only newspaper that ever reports such information?

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