The Supreme Court, which started its new term this week, will hear today a plea to reinstate death sentences for two brothers convicted in the notorious slayings of four people in Kansas, a case that has roiled the state’s politics and prompted calls to remake its judiciary, the Associated Press reports. The cases involve Jonathan and Reginald Carr, sentenced to lethal injection for the killings in Wichita in 2000. The justices also are hearing the case of Sidney Gleason, sentenced to die for the 2004 murder of a woman and her boyfriend after she witnessed a robbery. The Kansas Supreme Court overturned all three death sentences, and Attorney General Derek Schmidt appealed. Kansas reinstated capital punishment in 1994 but has yet to execute any convicted murderers since then because the state’s highest court hasn’t upheld any death sentence. The state’s last executions were hangings in 1965.
Conservative Republicans dominate state politics, but six of the court’s seven justices were appointed by Democratic or moderate GOP governors, leading to criticism that it opposes capital punishment. The decision overturning the Carrs‘ sentences prompted a campaign by victims’ family members that came close to removing two justices last year, an effort endorsed by both GOP Gov. Sam Brownback and the state Republican Party chairman. A crime victims’ group, Kansans for Justice, tried to oust Kansas Supreme Court Justices Lee Johnson and Eric Rosen for overturning the death sentences. They got less than 53 percent of the vote in a retention election, the lowest percentages since Kansas adopted its current system in 1960. Four other justices in the majority face potential retention votes in November 2016. The outcome of the Kansas cases, reports ScotusBlog, “may tell us more about whether some of the Justices' discomfort with the death penalty will translate into additional protections for defendants in capital cases or whether the Justices will instead remain … sharply divided.”