Kansas Supreme Court Rules Gov. Can’t Withdraw Judicial Nominee

FILE – In this Wednesday, April 17, 2019 file photo, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly speaks during a news conference at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kansas. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

(CN) – In a unanimous decision, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday that Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly did not have authority to withdraw the nomination of a state judge to the Kansas Court of Appeals in an unusual legal quandry.

Kelly nominated Labette County District Judge Jeffry Jack to the appellate court in March, but withdrew her nomination days later when it was discovered that Jack wrote several Twitter posts using obscene language to criticize Republican politicians.

The state Senate, largely controlled by Republicans and responsible for voting to confirm judicial nominations, was not expected to confirm Jack after the discovery of the tweets.

The nomination was made just before a 60-day deadline. Under state law, if the governor does not nominate a candidate to the appellate court by that time, the decision then falls to the Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss.

State Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, claimed that since Kelly withdrew her nomination, she failed to meet the deadline and argued that Nuss should nominate a candidate for the open position instead.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt filed a lawsuit against the governor, the Senate and the Supreme Court in order to get a ruling on the 2013 law that dictates how candidates are nominated to the appellate courts.

Only one day after hearing arguments, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the law did not provide any way for the governor or the candidate to withdraw the nomination.

Justice Dan Biles wrote in the 25-page ruling that “the statute makes no provision for a withdrawal once an appointment is made.”

“This court will not read a statute so as to add that which is not readily found in the language,” Biles wrote. “We will not do so in this case, even if the policy reasons are seductive.”

Kelly later planned to nominate attorney Sarah Warner to the vacant position, but the justices said the Senate must continue the process of voting on Jack. If the Senate fails to vote by next week, his confirmation will be automatically approved.

“I want to thank the Kansas Supreme Court for their expedited decision on this important issue,” Kelly said in a statement. “I encourage the Senate to act swiftly to vote down the Jack appointment next week. I intend to appoint Sarah Warner to the Court of Appeals following action by the Senate. It’s time to move forward and fill this vacancy with one of the brightest lawyers in our state.”

Wagle said the Senate would vote on Jack and offered harsh criticism of the governor.

“Laura Kelly’s mishandling of her Court of Appeals nomination is just another display of her incompetence as governor. Sadly, this avoidable situation by the Kelly administration has turned into a waste of taxpayer dollars,” Wagle said in a statement.

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