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What's the Matter with Kansas?

Its state supreme court, that's what.  That court is as bad on capital cases as California's old pre-1986 Bird Court was.  They don't seem to learn from their repeated reversals by the U.S. Supreme Court, including last term's unanimous Kansas v. Cheever (CJLF brief here).  In July 18's reversal of the death sentence of a double murderer, Justice Biles notes in dissent:

I dissent from the majority's holding that Sidney Gleason's sentence was imposed in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution because the district court failed to explicitly instruct the jury that mitigating circumstances need not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The majority's conclusion defies the United States Supreme Court's established Eighth Amendment jurisprudence and lacks any persuasive analysis articulating why the circumstances in this case justify a departure from that precedent.
As noted in today's News Scan, the Great Bend Tribune reports, "One week later, on July 25, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld a single capital murder conviction each for Reginald and Jonathan Carr but similarly vacated both of their death sentences."  These cases involve numerous legal issues, but the basis for vacating the death sentences on the upheld murder convictions was failure to sever the cases, which seems like a very odd reason for vacating a sentence but not a conviction.

The State of Kansas will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review three recent Kansas Supreme Court decisions that overturned death sentences imposed on two convicted murderers in Wichita and one in Great Bend, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said today.

 "We are not convinced that the Kansas court's application of federal constitutional requirements is correct, so we are requesting review of all three cases by the U.S. Supreme Court," Schmidt said.  "In each case, we doubt the U.S. Constitution compelled the Kansas court to set aside the death sentences that were recommended by juries of the defendants' peers."
The root cause of Kansas's state supreme court problems is a judicial selection system in which the governor is constrained to pick one from a short list prepared by a nominating commission, and a majority of that commission is chosen by the state's lawyers.  In effect, the nonlawyers of the state are disenfranchised in the selection of supreme court justices.  That is just plain nuts.  I would no more let the inmates of the state prison elect the warden than I would let the bar choose the justices.  Kansas needs to dump this system pronto.

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