Kansas Supreme Court Justice Johnson to retire in September

Hon. Lee Johnson (Source: Kansas Supreme Court)
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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Supreme Court justice whose votes in death penalty cases made him a political target plans to retire from the bench Sept. 8.

The decision announced Wednesday by Justice Lee Johnson will give Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly her first appointment to the seven-member high court. It will not require Kansas Senate confirmation.

The Supreme Court Nominating Commission, which consists of four gubernatorial appointees and four attorneys from across the state, submits three nominees and the Kelly will choose from that list. The Justice will then have to stand for retention every six years.

"Justice Lee Johnson has been a dedicated and distinguished public servant, first in Sumner County and then for 18 years on the bench in Kansas, to include 12 years on the Kansas Supreme Court,” Gov. Laura Kelly said. “I want to thank him for his service to the state and wish him the best in his well-deserved retirement."

Johnson was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2007 by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius after serving six years on the state Court of Appeals.

He and other justices drew criticism for overturning death sentences in several capital murder cases.

In 2014, a group formed by victims' friends and family sought to oust Johnson in a statewide yes-or-no vote on whether he would stay on the court. The vote to retain him was less than 53 percent.