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Judicial Branch

The judicial branch of government in Kansas applies the laws passed by the state legislature. The state judiciary exists to protect the stipulations in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution, specifically Amendments Four through Eight, which guarantee no unreasonable searches or seizures by police, the right to a grand jury indictment, a speedy trial by jury, no excessive bail, and protections for civil cases. Therefore, the state constitution established a state supreme court, and state district courts. Since 1861 much in the state judiciary has been amended and streamlined as circumstances have required. For example, the state district courts have grown in scope of their operations to include smaller courts such as probate courts and the court of common pleas, which deals with civil cases. Local municipal courts have been established as towns and cities have been incorporated.

The state is divided into 31 court districts. Each judicial district has a number of district court judges that are elected to a term of four years. The district courts hear all criminal and civil cases tried by jury, in addition to numerous other functions such as cases relating to minors, and the mentally disabled or infirm. If there is a dispute following a criminal case where the verdict may have been compromised due to a judge’s or attorney’s actions, the case goes before the Kansas Court of Appeals. The court of appeals has the ability to overturn or uphold a verdict or conviction based on the evidence presented.

The court of appeals was not originally founded in the Kansas Constitution. It was established by a temporary legislative act in 1895, and ended in 1901. In 1977 the court of appeals was reinstated, and it now is served by 13 justices. These justices do not hear jury trials. Instead they make rulings based on trial transcripts, written briefs by attorneys, and arguments made by attorneys in their court. Typically, only a three person panel of the justices is required to make any such ruling. If the judgment is still contested, the appeal can be taken to the state supreme court. Like supreme court justices, the justices of the appeals court are appointed by the governor by the recommendation of the supreme court nominating commission, and if approved by the senate, thereafter keep office by popular vote.

The state supreme court is the highest court in Kansas, and is the final authority in cases brought before it. Originally there were three supreme court justices who were elected to six year terms; today there are seven justices who are selected by the supreme court nominating commission, and, the governor selects a nominee to appoint to the court. The justices still serve six-year terms, but their initial appointment is decided by the governor and the senate in much the same way as the president does for the U.S. Supreme Court. The state’s high court may hear appeals from the court of appeals and the most important criminal and civil cases from the district courts. It also has original jurisdiction over matters that involve state agencies and powers not properly exercised, or powers exercised beyond the legality of a certain office. The supreme court can rule on the constitutionality of a state law, and either uphold it or strike it from the law codes. The supreme court justices make their rulings by interpreting the law not by creating or amending laws. Their decisions require four justices to overrule a lower court decision. The chief justice is appointed by seniority, and he or she is responsible for setting the rules and regulations for all of the courts in Kansas, as well as overseeing all of the attorneys of the state bar. Each of the remaining justices is in charge of one of six state judicial departments.

Entry: Judicial Branch

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: July 2012

Date Modified: January 2016

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.