Newest Kansas Supreme Court justice promises tenure free of external influences

Keynen ”KJ” Wall Jr. becomes the newest Kansas Supreme Court justice during a small, socially distanced swearing in ceremony Monday at the Kansas Judicial Center. (Screenshot from live stream)
Kenyen Wall Jr. is sworn in as justice of the Kansas Supreme Court at the Kansas Judicial Center in Topeka, KS

TOPEKA — Keynen ”KJ” Wall Jr. promised to devote himself to the mission of serving the people of Kansas equitably and free of outside influence as he was sworn in Monday as a Kansas Supreme Court justice.

Wall, who took the oath at a private ceremony, was appointed by Gov. Laura Kelly in March to fill the vacancy created when former Chief Justice Lawton Nuss retired in December. Nuss had served as a justice on the Supreme Court since 2002 and as chief justice since 2010.

“I had it instilled in me early on that justice needs to be accessible for everybody, and everybody that takes part in that justice system should be on a level playing field regardless of background,” Wall said.

Chief Justice Marla Luckert presided over the ceremony, which was smaller than usual to allow for social distancing, at the Kansas Judicial Center. Wall’s immediate family attended the ceremony, as well as Supreme Court Justices Eric Rosen and Evelyn Wilson and assistant secretary of state Catherine Gunsalus.

Justices usually are sworn in at the Kansas Supreme Court courtroom, packed with judges, legislators, friends and family.

Luckert read a letter from Gov. Laura Kelly and made a few remarks of her own about Wall.

“He will be fair and impartial, and he will be a guardian of the rule of law,” Luckert said. “No one can ask for more of a supreme court justice.”

Wall has a bachelor’s degree in communication from Kansas State University, a master’s degree in scientific and technical communication from the University of Minnesota, and a law degree from the University of Kansas School of Law.

Wall most recently worked in private practice with the Forbes Law Group, of Overland Park. Before that, he was special projects counsel to the Supreme Court from 2013 to 2015. He was also a judicial law clerk from 2002 to 2004 for Judge John Lungstrum, when Lungstrum was the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas.

Wall credited Nuss and Lungstrum with teaching him many of the values he plans to uphold in his new role.

“They taught me not to lose who I am throughout this process and to uphold the rule of law without external pressures,” Wall said. “My goal is to work as hard as these individuals to uphold those missions.”

Wall will serve one year on the court, after which he must stand for a retention vote in the next general election to remain in the position. If retained, Wall will serve a six-year term before the next retention vote.