Gov. Kathleen Sebelius yesterday announced the newest member of the Kansas Supreme Court will be William Daniel Biles, who will replace retiring Chief Justice Kay McFarland.
A recent Meadowlark article, Whom will Sebelius appoint to Kansas Supreme Court? A judge or Obama/Sebelius donor?, offered these comments about Sebelius’ judicial selection process:
Gov. Sebelius in the past often shows preference to Democratic party donors and activists in her appointments. … If the appointment is about politics then Biles has the edge.
I was convinced after writing that article the contest was between Judge Robert W. Fairchild and Judge Thomas E. Malone, since surely judicial qualifications are the most important aspect of a Kansas Supreme Court appointment? Why do we get a Democratic Party political donor and activist attorney on our Kansas Supreme Court, instead of a qualified, experienced judge? W. Daniel Biles (sometimes, William D. Biles, like in his April 2008 Statement of Substantial Interests Form) was the most political active among the three candidates from which Sebelius made her decision.
The Sebelius announcement gave these justifications for Biles’ appointment:
“For nearly 30 years, Dan has been an incredible advocate for those he represents, including the Kansas State Board of Education, the Kansas Turnpike Authority and the State of Kansas,” said Sebelius. “His constitutional knowledge of issues and extensive experience in the legal field is well-respected. He has argued in front of the Supreme Court on multiple occasions and will now bring his unique perspective to the other side of the bench.”
Today’s Kansas City Star said this:
Sebelius said she and her husband have been friends of Biles for more than three decades, starting when her husband was an attorney for the Topeka school district and Biles was an Associated Press reporter. She said she has relied on Biles for legal advice since becoming governor.
The “personal” connection to a nominee is a perfect reason why some sort of Senate approval is needed. Some public scrutiny of such an important appointment is sadly lacking now.
One of Biles’ accomplishment included the Montoy v. State of Kansas case, where he argued for a new meaning of the word “suitable” regarding Kansas education. Partially thanks to Biles, “suitable education” in Kansas now means to spend more money on education no matter. In the Montoy case, the Kansas Supreme Court usurped the power of the purse from the Legislature. We can only hope Biles’ doesn’t redefine other words while he serves on the high court, and also hope the court doesn’t usurp more power from the Legislature.
“Dan Biles” gave $1050 to Sebelius in 2001-2002 and “William Biles” gave $1500 to Sebelius in 2003 and 2005. “Dan Biles” gave $250 to Dennis Moore in 2004, $100 to John Vratil in 2000, and $100 to Greta Goodwin in 1998. “William Biles” gave $250 to Barack Obama in 2008.
Biles wife, Amy McCart, gave $1250 to Sebelius in 2002-2006, $250 to Paul Morrion in 2006, and $200 to Barack Obama in 2008. Biles is an unaffiliated voter, even though he mostly gives to Democrats. Biles’ wife, McCart, is a Democrat.
Biles has practiced law for 28 years. The sign at 10990 Quivira Rd. in Overland Park (above) shows the members of his law firm: Gates, Biles, Shields & Ryan.
The “Gates” in that law firm is senior partner Lawrence Gates, who is the current chair of the Kansas Democratic Party, a close friend and confidant of Kathleen Sebelius, and huge donor to Kathleen Sebelius and other Democrats. Gates was Sebelius’ choice for KDP chair after she became governor. Gates gave at least $8000 to various Democratic causes in 2008 (which only includes FEC money). Should we be concerned that an appointment of Biles to the high court would be little more than a quid pro quo for the Gates’ $15,000 to Sebelius’ gubernatorial campaigns?
The “Shields” in that law firm is Eldon J. Shields, a Democrat. Shields contributed $1200 to Sebelius for Governor (2002-2006), $500 to Dennis Moore for Congress (2004-2008), and $250 to Morrison for Attorney General (2006).
The “Ryan” in that law firm was both Thomas Kelly Ryan and Nancy R. Ryan. Thomas Kelly Ryan was appointed by Gov. Sebelius to be a Johnson County District Judge in Sept 2008. T. Kelly Ryan is a Democrat and contributor to Sebelius and Morrison, while his his wife, Nancy R Ryan was a Republican for Moore in 2008 and $500 contributor to Moore.
KanView shows the law firm Gates, Biles, Shields & Ryan makes a lot of money from Kansas taxpayers, including $362,020 in the last fiscal year.
[Click graphic above to see larger view.]
Through her selection of Biles for the Kansas high court, Sebelius is sending the message to future judicial applicants that political activism and political money matters more than judicial experience.
A 2005 Topeka Capital-Journal article commented that “Fewer state bar members belly up for court vacancy” when only 13 applicants were received to be on the state’s high court. Only 8 applied in 2008 when Biles was selected from the top three. The 2005 article said most openings before then drew nearly 30 applicants.
With Sebelius stacking the deck with her appointments to the Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission, we can expect even fewer good applicants in the future. Sadly, judicial experience doesn’t matter as much in the judicial selection process as political contributions and political activism.
- Analysis: The Sebelius Court, Kansas Supreme Court Blog, Jan 7, 2009.
- Political Profile of Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission: Gov. Sebelius stacks deck, Kansas Meadowlark, Jan 7, 2009.
- Whom will Sebelius appoint to Kansas Supreme Court? A judge or Obama/Sebelius donor?, Kansas Meadowlark, Dec 8, 2008.