A vacancy on the Kansas Supreme Court was filled on Friday by Governor Brownback. He appointed Court of Appeals Judge, Caleb Stegall to the position. KMUW's Aileen LeBlanc reports . . .
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday named state Court of Appeals Judge Caleb Stegall to the Kansas Supreme Court, promoting a relatively young former adviser of his with a history of conservative writings as a lawyer in private practice. The conservative Republican governor called the 42-year-old Stegall "brilliant" during a Statehouse ceremony announcing his first appointment to the seven-member Supreme Court. Brownback appointed Stegall to the Court of Appeals last year, and Stegall took his seat in January after serving nearly three years as the governor's chief counsel. Stegall replaces former Justice Nancy Moritz, who stepped down to take a seat on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles cases from six western and Plains states. Stegall was one of three finalists named from among 13 applicants earlier this month by a statewide judicial commission. The appointment does not require state Senate confirmation. No date for Stegall's swearing-in is set. "I believe Caleb Stegall to be one of the most qualified people ever to go on the Kansas Supreme Court," Brownback said during the ceremony. "That's what you want on the Kansas Supreme Court: somebody that's wise, somebody that's brilliant, somebody that can write." Stegall will be more than a decade younger than the other justices. His appointment by Brownback to the lower court last year drew criticism because of his ties to the governor and Stegall's past writings. An online magazine Stegall edited in 2005 encouraged "forcible resistance" to state and federal court orders to save the life of a brain-damaged Florida woman, though he later said it only advocated civil disobedience. In a 2008 online newspaper chat, he called the U.S. Supreme Court's historic 1973 ruling legalizing abortion across the nation "weak." The Kansas Values Institute, a group opposing Brownback's re-election this year, said he is trying to advance an "ultra-right agenda." "He has clearly chosen the least qualified, least experienced nominee of the three that were offered," executive director Ryan Wright said. The other finalists were Court of Appeals Judge Karen Arnold Burger, on that bench since 2011, and Chief Judge Merlin Wheeler of the state district court for Chase and Lyon counties. Two of the other justices were appointed by moderate GOP Gov. Bill Graves, and four were named by his successor, Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Moritz was an appointee of Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson, the last governor before Brownback. Stegall graduated third in his law school class at the University of Kansas in 1999, and later served as a clerk for then-Chief Judge Deanell Tacha of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He opened a law office outside Lawrence in 2005. He served as Jefferson County's elected prosecutor for two years before joining Brownback's staff in January 2011. Stegall defended four American missionaries detained in Haiti after trying to remove 33 children who incorrectly believed had been orphaned in its 2010 earthquake, and they returned to the U.S. without facing charges. Brownback and Stegall left the ceremony without taking questions. Immediately afterward, Stegall declined to answer questions about major legal issues before the court.
During the ceremony, Stegall said, "I look forward to going to work devoted, really devoted, to our democracy's promise of a fair, impartial and independent judiciary that is devoted to the rule of law."