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For The First Time, Finalists For Kansas Supreme Court Vacancy Are All Women

The Kansas Supreme Court building in Topeka.
Kansas News Service
The Kansas Supreme Court building in Topeka.

For the first time in the history of Kansas, the three finalists for a vacancy on the state's Supreme Court are all women.

The court on Monday announced that the three nominees for the opening created by the Sept. 18 retirement of Justice Carol Beier are Judge Kim Cudney, Judge Melissa Taylor Standridge and Kristen Wheeler.

Lisa Taylor, a spokeswoman for the court, said she’d reviewed the court’s news releases going back several decades. Typically, she said, the finalists included no more than one woman.

“So, yes, this is the first time that the pool of nominees have all been women,” Taylor said.

The court currently has two women justices: Chief Justice Marla Luckert, who was named to the court by Gov. Bill Graves in 2003; and Justice Evelyn Z. Wilson, who was named to the court by Gov. Laura Kelly in 2019.

The seven-member court has had three sitting female justices only twice before: When Wilson was appointed, she joined Beier and Luckert on the court. And before that, there was a three-and-a-half-year period from early 2011 to mid-2014 when Luckert, Beier and Justice Nancy Moritz, now a federal appeals court judge, sat on the the state's high court.

The court’s first female justice — and later its first female chief justice — was Kay McFarland. She was appointed by Gov. Robert F. Bennett in 1977 and became chief justice in 1995. She stepped down in 2009 after reaching the state’s mandatory retirement age of 70.

As currently composed, the court is generally seen as left-leaning on issues of women’s rights, notably having ruled last year that a woman’s right to an abortion is rooted in the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

The three finalists for the current vacancy were chosen by a nine-member nominating commission consisting of five lawyers and four non-lawyers. Kelly, who has already named two justices — Wilson and K.J. Wall — has 60 days to pick one of the three.

Cudney, a resident of Greenleaf, has been chief judge of the 12th Judicial District, consisting of Cloud, Jewell, Lincoln, Mitchell, Republic, and Washington counties in north-central Kansas, since 2006. Before that, she was a research attorney for a federal district court judge and for Kansas Supreme Court Justice Harold Herd. She graduated from Kansas State University and Washburn University School of Law.

Standridge, a resident of Leawood, has been a Kansas Court of Appeals judge since February 2008. Before that she worked for a federal magistrate judge, a federal district court judge and for the Shook Hardy and Bacon law firm in Kansas City. She graduated from the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. She is married to former Jackson County Circuit Judge Richard T. Standridge, who recently retired.

Wheeler, a resident of Wichita, has been a law clerk for a federal district court judge since 2018. Before that, she was a lawyer with the Robinson Law Firm and with Morris Laing Evans Brock & Kennedy. She graduated from the University of Kansas and Washburn University School of Law.

CORRECTION: Nominee Kristen Wheeler lives in Wichita. An earlier version of this story listed the wrong city.

Copyright 2020 KCUR 89.3

Dan Margolies is editor in charge of health news at KCUR, the public radio station in Kansas City. Dan joined KCUR in April 2014. In a long and varied journalism career, he has worked as a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star and Reuters. In a previous life, he was a lawyer. He has also worked as a media insurance underwriter and project development director for a video production firm.