Gavel Grab

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KS Legislature Gone, But Not Controversy Over Courts Bill

KansasThe Kansas legislature has finally wrapped up work after a long overtime session to deal with contentious budget issues. A bill that it passed for funding state courts, signed by Gov. Sam Brownback, was one of the legislature’s most controversial actions.

The bill has an unusual provision to strike the funding if a Kansas court overturns a year-old statute that removed authority of the state Supreme Court to name district court chief judges. It has received extensive attention both in Kansas and nationally.

At Salon, Paul Rosenberg mentioned the law at length in an article that was headlined, “Sam Brownback guts Kansas even more: This is life under America’s worst Republican governor.” Read more

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Could a federal lawsuit rescue Kansas Supreme Court?

Gov. Brownback

Gov. Brownback

A bill signed by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback that “linked funding for the judiciary to the outcome of a Kansas Supreme Court case” as reported in Above the Law, continues to spark controversy. Now an analysis in Slate suggests that the Kansas Supreme Court may be able to strike back.

“He (Brownback) has forgotten one escape hatch against autocracy: the United States Constitution,” reported Slate. According to the analysis, the Kansas Supreme Court can sue Brownback under the so-called Guarantee Clause, an obscure provision of the Constitution.

Coverage of the crisis in Kansas has been overwhelmingly negative. “Brownback only wants to pay the courts if they render the decision that he wants,” said Above the Law; while The Aspen Times accused Brownback and his “cohorts” of using their position to “undermine the constitutionally backed independence of judiciary, in order to pack state courts with judges who agree with him.” It also said it was a “subtle political coup in the making.” The LA Times described the situation as “what can only be seen as attempted extortion,” and Slate  stated that Brownback was trying to “threaten it (the Kansas Judiciary) with total destruction.”

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‘Essentially Extortion': Editorial on KS Courts Under Political Attack

Gov. Brownback

Gov. Brownback

At home and from afar, the Kansas legislature and governor continue to take a beating from critics who say these politicians are engaging in extortion-style tactics with Kansas courts.

From a Kansas City Star editorial: “The Legislature … passed, and [Gov. Sam] Brownback recently signed, a reckless measure that would eliminate funding for the state’s entire judicial branch if the Kansas Supreme Court overturns a 2014 law on judicial selection in district courts. This is an unconscionable intrusion on the actions of another branch of government. The Legislature’s act is essentially extortion: Rule in our favor or be shut down.”

From a Los Angeles Times editorial: “In what can only be seen as attempted extortion, Brownback last week signed into law a measure that will defund the state’s court system should any state judge rule unconstitutional a separate 2014 court reform law enacted by Brownback and his minions. … It’s unconscionable that a state legislature and a governor would resort to such clearly unconstitutional tactics to try to rig a court case.” Read more

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Commentary: Brownback, Legislators ‘Bullying’ the Judiciary

flag_st_ksFor his signing a court funding bill that also threatens to roll back the entire funding package (see Gavel Grab), Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is getting a scorching from national media commentators.

“Brownback and the legislature are essentially bullying the judiciary: Uphold our law or cease to exist,” summed up Mark Joseph Stern at Slate. The  bill has a controversial provision that strikes the funding if a Kansas court overturns a year-old statute that removed authority of the state Supreme Court to name district court chief judges.

At MSNBC’s The Maddowblog, it was noted that Rachel Maddow recently characterized the legislation as telling the courts, “‘You rule one way, you’re fine. You rule the other way, we will abolish the courts.’ So go ahead and consider that case, Kansas judges. Enjoy your judicial independence.”

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Brownback Battle With Judiciary Escalates: N.Y. Times

Gov. Sam Brownback’s signing into law a judiciary funding measure that also could jettison the same funding marks an escalation of the Republican chief executive’s fight with the judicial branch, the New York Times reported. 

The court funding bill has a controversial provision that strikes the funding if a Kansas court overturns a year-old statute that removed authority of the state Supreme Court to name district court chief judges (see Gavel Grab). The authority was transferred to the district courts themselves.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Matthew Menendez, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, which is aiding in representation of a state judge who is challenging the 2014 law. “It seems pretty clear that these mechanisms have been an effort by the governor and the Legislature to try and get a court system that is more in line with their philosophy.” The Brennan Center is a Justice at Stake partner organization. Read more

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Brownback Signs Court Funding Bill With Controversial Provision

Gov. Brownback

Gov. Brownback

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has signed into law a two-year funding bill for the state’s judiciary with a controversial provision that has drawn national attention.

Brownback signed HB 2005, according to a news release from the governor’s office. “With budget appropriation in place, the judiciary will not be subject to any potential furlough as the Legislature continues to work on the overall budget and tax policy,” the news release stated.

The provision states that if the courts strike down a year-old administrative overhaul statute that removed authority of the Supreme Court to name district court chief judges, then the funding itself will be struck down. Critics say the provision is unconstitutional and part of conservative legislators’ attacks on state courts (see Gavel Grab for background).

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Commentary: Losers in KS Courts Are Seeking to Change the Judges

The attacks launched by conservative politicians on Kansas courts are again getting national attention, this time from IVN.US, a publication of the Independent Voter Project.

An essay by David Yee says that in a showdown over public school funding, where the courts and legislature have not seen eye-to-eye, Republican Gov. Sam “Brownback and his allies in the legislature have a plan — if they can’t win in the courts, they will just change the judges. At least seven changes to the way Supreme Court justices are chosen and/or retained have been put forth, many of which would require a change in the Kansas Constitution.”

The essay is entitled, “KS Governor Would Rather Change The State Supreme Court than Fund Schools.”

 

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Court Funding Bill With Controversial Section Goes to Brownback

The Kansas House passed a $131 million funding bill for the courts and sent it to Gov. Sam Brownback for his signature, although it contains a hotly debated provision that critics say is unconstitutional and part of conservative legislators’ attacks on state courts.

That provision states that if the courts strike down a year-old administrative overhaul statute that removed authority of the Supreme Court to name district court chief judges, then the funding itself will be struck down, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.

The provision is so controversial that it was a topic of a Wall Street Journal article; a Mother Jones article about conservatives having “declared war” on the state’s highest court; and of Read more

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Mother Jones: Constitutional Crisis Ahead in Kansas?

stock-footage-kansas-flag-loopConservative politicians in the Kansas capital of Topeka have “declared war” on the state Supreme Court after it ordered the tax-cutting legislature to increase public education funding, reports a Mother Jones article. It suggests that a constitutional crisis could be ahead:

“In the year since the court’s education decision in March 2014, conservatives in the Kansas Legislature have proposed giving the governor more power to pick state Supreme Court justices and making it easier to remove justices from the bench. They’ve voted to strip the state’s top court of its authority over lower courts and threatened to defund state courts if they rule against the Legislature in a key case. The escalating power struggle between the state’s three branches of government has put Kansas ‘on a direct collision course to a constitutional crisis,’ says Ryan Wright, executive director of Kansans for Fair Courts, a nonprofit dedicated to keeping partisan politics out of the judicial selection process in Kansas.”

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From Both Sides, Presidential Candidates Assail Supreme Court

Presidential candidates from both parties are finding plenty to snipe about the Supreme Court, whether they are targeting an expected decision on marriage equality or the court’s Citizens United ruling.

Bloomberg Politics caught up this week on what the candidates have been saying on the campaign trail, which Gavel Grab has mentioned earlier in installments. Bloomberg Politics also reported some new remarks by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a Republican, who told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace that the Supreme Court has overreached its legal role. When asked how far he would take that view, Huckabee volunteered:

Then, what if the Supreme Court ruled they were going to make the decision as to who was going to be the next president and save the taxpayers and voter from all the expense and trouble of voting, and they’ll just pick a president? Well, we would say, ‘Well, they can’t do that.’ Why can’t they do it? They can’t do it because it’s not in the law.”

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