TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly is appointing Melissa Taylor Standridge to fill a Kansas Supreme Court justice vacancy.
Standridge, who has served as a judge in the Kansas Court of Appeals since 2008, will replace Carol Beier, who retired in September after 17 years on the bench. This is the governor’s third appointment to the Kansas Supreme Court.
In making the announcement Monday, Kelly said Standridge would bring not only a deep appreciation for the law but also a “nuanced understanding” of the world and people the law governs, citing her personal and professional experience with the foster care system.
“There’s no question that Melissa has gathered a wealth of legal expertise that makes her more than prepared to join the Supreme Court. But there is more to her unique career trajectory and life experience that makes her a perfect fit for our state’s highest court,” Kelly said. “As a foster care and adoptive parent, she has firsthand experience navigating the system both as a judge and as a foster parent to numerous youngsters, doing her best to provide security and stability and love to kids who sorely need it.”
Standridge was selected from a list of three nominees forwarded to Kelly in October by a nominating commission. Kim Cudney, chief judge of the 12th Judicial District, and Kristen Wheeler, a law clerk for federal Judge Thomas Marten were the two other candidates.
Kelly noted this is the first time in Kansas history that all three Supreme Court finalists were women.
Standridge’s career path was an important factor in the nomination decision, Kelly said. Standridge spent six years after graduating from the University of Kansas working at Dillard’s and then worked her way through school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.
Despite a packed schedule during her time in law school, Standridge still found time to work as editor-in-chief of the Law Review and as student leader of the Moot Court program.
Additionally, Standridge joins the state’s highest court with a strong legal background beyond her time in the Court of Appeals. She previously worked as chambers counsel to former U.S. District Magistrate Judge David Waxse and former U.S. District Judge Elmo Hunter, and was a lawyer with the firm Shook, Hardy and Bacon.
Standridge credited her diverse background with bringing her to what she described as “the honor of a lifetime” but assured Kansans she would not rest easy after this nomination.
“The justices of our Supreme Court have difficult jobs, so I am keenly aware that my appointment is more than just moving my office from the second floor of the judicial center to the third floor,” Standridge said. “But I believe that my years as a judge on the Kansas Court of Appeals, my extensive experience working with judges and lawyers from across our state, and my broad life experiences outside the law have prepared me for this challenge.”
Standridge will serve on the court for a year before standing for a retention vote in the general election. If retained by voters, she would serve an additional six years before being subject to another vote.
Currently, Supreme Court justices are nominated by a nonpartisan commission and the names are forwarded to the governor for the final decision. Republican legislators have criticized the lack of legislative oversight.
With Kansas’ court of appeals nominations, for example, the governor’s choice is subject to confirmation by the state Senate.
Kelly dismissed concerns about the process. She said the current process makes sure the selection is made honestly and without influence.
“We don’t need to politicize the court,” Kelly said.
Including Kelly’s three appointments to the Supreme Court — Standridge and current Justices Evelyn Wilson and K.J. Wall — the majority of the state’s justices have been selected by Democratic governors.