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Kansas Supreme Court

The Kansas Supreme Court is the highest court in Kansas. Originally established in 1861 by the Kansas Constitution as a three-member court, it was expanded in 1900 by constitutional amendment to increase the number of justices to seven—the same number as today.

The Kansas Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. The court hears direct appeals from district courts in the most serious criminal cases and appeals in any case in which a statute has been held unconstitutional. It may review cases decided by the Kansas Court of Appeals or may transfer cases from that court to the supreme court. The supreme court also has original jurisdiction in several types of cases.

Supreme court justices ordinarily do not conduct trials but make their rulings by interpreting the law. The justices decide an appealed case by reading the record of the trial and written briefs filed by the parties and hearing oral arguments of lawyers. They research and review the law involved in the case and then write an opinion, which is usually published in bound volumes. The court announces its decisions by filing them with the Office of the Clerk of the Appellate Courts.

The constitution requires that all cases be heard by at least four justices and that a concurrence of a majority of the justices hearing a case, and of not fewer than four, is necessary for a decision. The supreme court hears nearly all cases in the Kansas Judicial Center in Topeka.

In addition to hearing cases, the supreme court, by constitutional mandate, has general administrative authority over all Kansas courts. Its rules govern appellate practice in the supreme court and the court of appeals, and procedures in district courts. The supreme court rules also provide for examining and admitting attorneys, set forth code of professional responsibility that govern attorney conduct, and include the canons of judicial ethics that govern conduct of judges. Rules also provide for examining and certifying official court reporters. The supreme court also may discipline attorneys, judges and nonjudicial employees.

Prior to legislation passed in 2014, the Kansas Supreme Court designated the chief judge of the Kansas Court of Appeals as well as the chief judge for each of Kansas’ 31 judicial districts. Effective July 1, 2016, the court of appeals and each district court will elect their own chief judges, such procedures for election to be determined by the respective courts.

Supreme Court Justices

The Kansas Constitution requires that any candidate for selection as a supreme court justice be at least 30 years old and be authorized by the Kansas Supreme Court to practice law in Kansas, in addition to statutory requirements that the candidate must have been in the active and continuous practice of law as a lawyer, judge of a court of record or any court in Kansas, full-time teacher of law in an accredited law school or any combination thereof for a period of at least 10 years prior to the date of appointment as justice.

Supreme court justices were originally elected from the state at large for six-year terms. In 1958 a constitutional amendment changed the selection of supreme court justices from the partisan election method to an appointment process. Under the plan, which is still used today, candidates are initially screened by the Supreme Court Nominating Commission, a nine-member commission composed of one lawyer elected statewide by the members of the Kansas Bar Association, one lawyer from each congressional district elected by the resident members of the Kansas Bar Association of such district, and one nonlawyer from each congressional district appointed by the governor. The nonpartisan commission nominates three candidates for consideration by the governor and the governor then makes the appointment. After the first year in office the justice is subject to a retention vote in the next general election. If a majority of electors votes to retain the justice, he or she remains in office for a term of six years. Justices are subject to a similar retention vote at the conclusion of each six-year term.

The justice who is senior in terms of continuous service is designated by the Kansas Constitution as the chief justice, unless he or she declines or resigns the position. The chief justice has general administrative supervision over the affairs of the court and of the unified judicial department of the state. Each of the remaining justices is in charge of one of six state judicial departments.

Supreme Court Courtroom image
Kansas Supreme Court Courtroom in the Kansas Judicial Center
Photo by Todd Caywood