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Kansas Welcomes First Woman of Color to Appellate Court Bench

March 24, 2021 by TWN Staff
Jacy Hurt (Kutak Rock, LLP)

The Kansas Senate has confirmed two women to serve on the state’s court of appeals, including the first woman of color to serve in that position. In doing so, the Senate took steps to assure itself neither woman would be an “activist” intent on “legislating” from the bench.

The Senate approved Gov. Laura Kelly’s nominees on Tuesday. They were Jacy Hurst and Lesley Isherwood, who will replace former appellate judges Melissa Standridge and Steve Leben, respectively, filling the remaining vacancies on the court. 

Standridge was sent up to the state Supreme Court, while Leben retired. 

Hurst, the first woman of color on the Court of Appeals, is a Lawrence, Kan., resident and a partner with the law firm of Kutak Rock, LLP in Kansas City.  Much of her legal career was spent representing businesses in the employment, health care and regulatory areas. 

Isherwood is the senior assistant district attorney and has been a prosecutor since 1999. She’s argued more than 100 cases before Kansas appellate courts and authored over 1,000 appellate briefs.

During confirmation hearings last week, Republican senators asked the women for their position on “originalism” when it came to interpreting the laws of the state, and whether they would consider themselves activities

The Republicans concerns lay in the facr the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that abortion is a state constitutional right — a ruling conservatives in the state senate said was judicial overreach.

Both women assured senators they did not agree with treating the Constitution as a living document.

“I appreciate judges who have a narrow focus and who exercise judicial restraint. To me, that’s my philosophy,” Hurst said.

“When [it comes to] the plainn letter of the law, I would fall under the traditionalist approach,” Isherwood said. “I would follow the longstanding law of this state, that the intent of the Legislature must control as evidenced by the language that’s utilized in those statutes.”

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