State Supreme Court races could get increased political attention over decisions

10/01/2016 08:41 PM

FRANKFORT — With the Kentucky Supreme Court likely taking up other cases stemming from actions by Gov. Matt Bevin after ruling that he overstepped his power in mandating current-year cuts for state universities, nonpartisan races for seats on the high court may get increased attention.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer says he expects a brighter spotlight for Supreme Court campaigns after the high court ruled 5-2 Sept. 22 against Bevin’s $18 million reduction for spending allotments to universities during the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2016.

Other lawsuits against Bevin, including one challenging his overhaul of the University of Louisville’s board of trustees, will probably wind up before the Supreme Court.

Bevin, in an interview on WHAS Radio the day after the high court’s 5-2 decision, ripped into the court, saying justices “decided to invent new rules on the spot, which is unfortunate.”

“There’s a lot of partisanship I think has crept into the legal system in Kentucky,” Bevin said on the program, according to a report by The Courier-Journal. “It’s a shame to see it when it comes at the expense of Kentucky.”

Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he also disagreed with the court’s ruling, and he sees conservative voters possibly taking a more active role in deciding justices on the high court.

“I think for people who really pay attention to this, it could be an issue, and I would just be speaking anecdotally because I haven’t seen any quantitative data or polling on any Supreme Court race,” he told Pure Politics on Wednesday.

“But I would say that the more the courts appear to be activists instead of interpreting and applying the law fairly, I think that gets conservatives, both Republicans and Democrats, pretty energized about making sure that we try to get some more conservative voices on the court who apply the law fairly and not make it from the bench.”

He added that “a legislative remedy” could be on the horizon to cut $18 million from university’s budgets or to give governors explicit authority to open up the institutions’ budgets in next year’s legislative session.

The potentially greater emphasis on Supreme Court races here would mirror similar strife over the U.S. Supreme Court, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledging not to confirm any nominations to the vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February until the next president takes office.

Thayer said he’s supporting Larry VanMeter over Glenn Acree, both judges on the Kentucky Court of Appeals, in his campaign to replace Deputy Chief Justice Mary Noble in the Fifth Supreme Court District, the only high court race on this year’s ballot.

“I know that folks in my district are eager to have some more conservative voices on the Supreme Court, so I think where there are competitive Supreme Court races, people probably are paying a little closer attention now,” he said.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Court of Appeals Judge Glenn Acree as Steve Acree.


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