Kansas GOP strategist sends deceptive mailer on judicial retention votes

By: - November 4, 2022 5:11 pm
Two sides of a deceptive mailer are shown together

A deceptive mailer conflates the distinction between the U.S. Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade and the retention of Kansas Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of abortion rights. (Kansas Reflector illustration from submitted photos)

TOPEKA — GOP political strategist Kris Van Meteren sent a deceptive mailer that could sow confusion about whether abortion rights supporters should vote “yes” or “no” to retain Kansas Supreme Court justices.

The mailers appear to be part of a campaign by anti-abortion activists to reshape the state’s high court following a 2019 ruling that said the Kansas Constitution’s right to bodily autonomy includes the decision to terminate a pregnancy. Six of the state Supreme Court justices are up for a retention vote, including two who voted in favor of the 2019 ruling.

A proposed constitutional amendment on abortion would have overturned the 2019 decision and given the Legislature the authority to ban abortion without exceptions. Voters rejected that amendment by a 59-41 margin in the Aug. 2 primary.

A mailer sent by VMCF — formerly known as the Van Meteren Charitable Foundation — blurs the distinction between the Kansas Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court, which eliminated federal protections for reproductive health care in June when it overturned Roe v. Wade.

“It took just five anti-choice justices to overturn Roe v. Wade,” the front of the mailer reads, “but Kansans pushed back and said, ‘No!’ ”

The confusion comes from the message on the flip side: “When you vote Tuesday, let them hear you again!” the mailer says, with a big all-caps “NO!”

Van Meteren’s mailer shows a “no” circle filled out under a ballot question about whether to retain a Kansas Supreme Court justice. The imagery includes a red X over a “Vote yes!” sign from the Aug. 2 primary.

Mike Swenson, a spokesman for Keep Kansas Courts Impartial, said the mailer was a last-minute attempt to create confusion. The organization has argued that judges should not be influenced by partisanship or popularity when making decisions.

“Apparently, the only way opponents of fair and impartial courts in Kansas know how to campaign is by lies and deception,” Swenson said. “This is a blatant attempt to confuse voters. Vote ‘yes’ to retain fair and impartial courts in Kansas.”

Kansas has used a merit-based screening process for Supreme Court justices since the 1950s. A nine-member commission reviews applicants and sends three nominees to the governor, who then chooses one of the nominees. New justices are placed on the ballot for a retention vote and then subject to retention votes every six years.

No justice has ever been removed from the court through a retention vote.

Van Meteren has worked for years on behalf of Republicans. A partnership between Van Meteren and Jared Suhn ended in a bitter breakup that spawned a lawsuit and fears of an ethics investigation.

Van Meteren didn’t return a phone call seeking comment for this story.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the 2021 and 2022 Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He is a lifelong Kansan.