Opinion column

by Murrel Bland

Chief Justice Lawton R. Nuss
Chief Justice Lawton R. Nuss

Lawton Nuss handed out a calling card that says the following:

“I, Lawton Nuss, solemnly swear or affirm that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Kansas, and faithfully discharge the duties of the Kansas Supreme Court, so help me God.”

Nuss was handing out these cards when he talked to a group of about 50 persons, mostly lawyers, at a meeting of the Kansas Appleseed organization Friday, Dec. 2, at the Spencer Fane law firm in downtown Kansas City, Mo. Nuss is the chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court and admitted that his job isn’t without its challenges.

Nuss was the keynote speaker at the meeting. His presentation was entitled “Judicial selection and retention in Kansas.”

Nuss and three of his associate justices, Dan Biles, Carol Beier and Marla Luckert, survived a very serious challenge from ultra-conservative advocacy groups in the recent November general election. These opposing organizations included Kansans for Life, Kansans for Justice and the Kansas Rifle Association.

Gov. Sam Brownback and his conservative allies have advocated changing the way Supreme Court justices are chosen, favoring a direct partisan election. Those of a more moderate political persuasion argue that the present merit appointment system works well. Judges run against their records in nonpartisan elections.

The conservatives favoring a direct partisan election of judges, including certain legislators, argue that the merit selection committee is too heavily influenced by trial lawyers. Those favoring the merit selection argue that when judges run in partisan elections, money can be the controlling factor.

The Kansas Appleseed organization, including Kansas lawyers, law professors, court professionals and civic groups, sent out letters before the recent general election, encouraging judges to be evaluated on their professional performance and their respect for law and not their fund-raising abilities.

Conservatives have complained that the Kansas Supreme Court is a group of activist judges who overexert their authority by “making law.” Nuss was quick to point out that the practice of judicial review has been long established, dating back to the U.S. Supreme Court case of Madison vs Marbury in 1803. Simply stated, the court may rule a law invalid if it finds it to be inappropriate.

Nuss also said that one of the ways legislators hamper the court is to deny it proper funding. He has asked the Kansas Legislature for a $20 million increase during each of the next two years. He said that the court system only makes up 1 percent of the total state budget. He said it is difficult to attract employees because of low wages. Although Nuss may well have a valid point, state budget restraints may make the request very doubtful.

The Kansas Supreme Court is expected to rule on state funding for education sometime during the next few weeks. Some statehouse pundits have speculated this could add as much as $500 million to an already severely strained budget. Conservative critics of the court again point to activist judges who would encroach into legislative matters with such a ruling.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is executive director of Business West.

by Mary Rupert

Time is running out for the undecided to make up their minds in the presidential election on Tuesday, Nov. 8, and also for the other candidates and issues on the ballots.

Undecided voters are very important at this point in the election. While I personally am not undecided, the polls show there are still some voters who have not made up their minds.

One average of five respected national polls this week, from the Real Clear Politics website, showed a total of 94 percent of the voters would vote for one of the four leading presidential candidates. The remaining 6 percent may be committed to other candidates or may be undecided, and their decisions could make the difference in the election because polls show the top two candidates are close. Four out of five of these recent polls gave Clinton the lead at 3 to 4 points ahead this week, while the fifth poll cited gave Trump the lead with 2 points ahead.

I don’t blame the undecideds for not making up their minds yet. Maybe some think the candidates are too much alike, and maybe others really don’t like either one. Perhaps they are turned off by hateful remarks that were said this year. But there are real differences between the candidates this year on the issues, and voters will set the direction for future policies.

While flipping a coin in the voting booth is probably not against the law, there could be better ways of making up your mind.

If you are undecided, I recommend first doing some research on the candidates. Find the candidates’ positions on several issues you care about and see if it agrees with your position. The presidential candidates’ debates can be found on YouTube for review. Several stories about local candidates have appeared in the Wyandotte Daily during the campaign. A local candidate forum was on the KCKCC cable television channel.

There are several resources available online to compare the candidates’ stances on the issues. One of them is Project Vote Smart, http://votesmart.org/.

If you still can’t decide after the research, there are plenty of people who will tell you how to vote. But to make your own decision, you might try one of the processes that have been developed to guide people through tough dilemmas.

Ben Franklin was famous for making a list of pros and cons for important decisions. After you write the reasons for voting one way on one side of the paper and the reasons for a different way on the other side of the paper, give each item a number from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, for its importance. Then you can give weight to the pros and cons based on factors such as how likely will they occur. In this campaign, you might even want to award negative points on your list. Ask yourself some questions about your results, emphasizing what really matters to you.

Another way to make decisions, often used when there is a dilemma, is called the Potter box, named after an ethicist. In that process, a person draws a box on a paper, divided into four parts by a horizontal and vertical line. The top left box describes the facts of the situation. The next box uses the values that are part of the decision. The third box cites ethical principles being used (such as the golden mean or the greatest good for the greatest number), and in the fourth box you state your loyalties, in connection with this decision. The process might help undecided people reach a decision.

There is one sure thing for undecideds to remember this year: If you don’t vote, you are essentially letting everyone else decide for you. I would encourage undecided voters to try to come to some sort of decision and then vote this year.

To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email maryr@wyandottedaily.com.

Window on the West
Opinion column

by Mary Rupert

Is there a right to an education? Yes, there is.

I haven’t heard a lot of comments about the upcoming Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools bond election, and we haven’t received very many comments on the stories about it. One comment, though, was from a person who attended a public meeting on another topic. He said he didn’t agree that there was a right to an education.

That is the sort of viewpoint that would go back to the 1770s and 1780s, when the U.S. Constitution was written. The federal constitution doesn’t include a right to education. The word “education” isn’t mentioned in the bill of rights. Back then, kids, women and minorities were treated like property, and it was up to the parents whether the kids were sent to school. Parents still have a good deal of authority in today’s society, but there has been a shift in beliefs about a right to an education.

Maybe people in Kansas were a little more enlightened when they wrote their state Constitution, in 1859 in what is now downtown Kansas City, Kan.

There is a reference to education in the Kansas Constitution. It says, “Schools and related institutions and activities. The legislature shall provide for intellectual, educational, vocational and scientific improvement by establishing and maintaining public schools, educational institutions and related activities which may be organized and changed in such manner as may be provided by law.”

My guess is that perhaps Clarina Nichols, who advocated for women’s right to vote in school elections and anti-slavery provisions, might have had something to do with getting these other provisions about education and women’s property rights into the Kansas Constitution.

My opinion is that there is more than just a right to an education. There is a duty that our community and society owes to provide an education to children. It’s in our society’s best interests, also, to educate the next generation in order to develop fully informed citizens, who are able to continue the many roles needed in society, some requiring advanced degrees, and perhaps even move society forward in scientific, technological and artistic advances.

The question the courts are considering, of whether the state’s education funding is adequate, should not even have to be asked. The funding should be much more than adequate. Like the early citizens of the nation, I still support parents being able to choose what sort of education their children should receive, be it public school, charter school, private school or home school, but there should be funding provided to public schools that is not just adequate, but excellent.

The writers of the Kansas Constitution, being strong supporters of the separation of church and state, also added this directive: “No religious sect or sects shall control any part of the public educational funds.”

While I certainly understand the arguments of parents who think there should be vouchers allowed to educate children in private schools with public money, I don’t agree with it. My fear is more that the government would reach into the private schools to dictate what is taught there, and that the public funds would have strings attached to them. The private schools are necessary to our society, especially if public schools are one day taken over by political or religious ideologues.

Kansas also has a history of political interests getting hold of educational institutions to dictate what is taught, instead of allowing academic freedom. That is what happened when the Populists took control of a state university in the late 1800s in Kansas. I’m not commenting on their beliefs, but just noting that it could happen again because it happened before.

However, there just isn’t any higher use of tax dollars than to provide a quality education to students. For that reason, I support passage of the school bond on the ballot Nov. 8. The community has a duty to see that its students are educated well. We need to enhance our education spending. The students are the future of the community and the world, and whatever funding that is invested in them is worth it.

To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email maryr@wyandottedaily.com.