Gov. Laura Kelly on Monday revealed her first appointment to the Kansas Supreme Court, praising Evelyn Wilson for her unique experiences as an attorney in rural Kansas and judge for one of the state's busiest district courts.
Wilson has served since 2004 on the Shawnee County District Court, rising to chief judge in 2014. Wilson previously worked at a Topeka law firm for 12 years and at private practice in Oberlin for seven years.
"Judge Wilson has shown the kind of common sense, intellect and personal skills that define our best jurists," Kelly said.
The judge said she was humbled and honored by the trust placed in her by the governor.
"I believe I am a calm person, and I am thoughtful," Wilson said. "I believe that I will be able to contribute to the court from my experiences as a lawyer for 19 years in many areas of the law and presiding over many, many cases during my 15 years as a judge. So I believe I can bring that perspective to the court."
Wilson replaces Justice Lee Johnson, who retired Sept. 8. Kelly will make another selection to replace Justice Lawton Nuss, who retired Friday.
The appointment by Kelly, a Democrat, arrives with increasing scrutiny by Republican lawmakers who question whether the current selection process should be overhauled to require approval by the state Senate. Under the current system, a nominating commission reviews applicants and selects three finalists for the governor to consider.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Republican from Wichita, blasted Kelly for choosing "an ultra-liberal" whose husband contributed $1,000 to Kelly's gubernatorial campaign in 2018.
"This brings into question the independence of her judicial autonomy," Wagle said. "Wilson will fit right in with the most liberal state Supreme Court in the nation, where they just legalized abortion up to birth while throwing out the death sentences of convicted murders."
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling that declares the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights guarantees a woman's right "to make her own decisions regarding her body, health, family formation, and family life — decisions that can include whether to continue a pregnancy.”
Kansans for Life, the anti-abortion lobbying group, opposed Wilson because the judge's husband has contributed to political candidates who support abortion rights.
"Kansans for Life is not surprised that the governor chose as a Supreme Court justice someone who supports her vision for unlimited abortion in the state," the organization said in a statement. "This is yet another reason why we need to amend the Kansas Constitution and ensure that women and their babies can be protected by reasonable regulations on the abortion industry."
Kelly said she expects Wilson to make decisions through the eyes of a lawyer and not as a politician.
"My appointments are based on qualifications," Kelly said. "I don't take into account popularity. I really do take into account whether they are fit to do the job, and it is my sense that Judge Wilson is more than qualified."
Wilson received her law degree from Washburn University in 1985 after getting a degree in business and economics from Bethany College. She taught law at Washburn from 2001 to 2004.
The two other finalists for the position, Dennis Depew and Steven Obermeier, both work for the Kansas Attorney General's office.