‘Political War’ Against KS High Court Chronicled in New Yorker

Kansas-Flag-2For many months, elected officials in Kansas have put state courts in the crosshairs, and Gavel Grab has followed the ongoing saga incrementally. It has grabbed national attention. Now The New Yorker recaps this important battle in a piece titled “The Political War Against the Kansas Supreme Court”; it cites Justice at Stake.

Writer Lincoln Caplan depicts a struggle by elected leaders to politicize an impartial court. He discusses efforts to junk merit selection of Supreme Court justices (one proposal was defeated last week, see Gavel Grab, and another would replace merit selection with popular election) and also upcoming retention (up-or-down) elections for five of the seven justices, and he concludes:

“Elections often make judges indistinguishable from politicians, and judging indistinguishable from politics. As of now, when reasonable citizens disagree with rulings of the Kansas Supreme Court, they mainly trust its good intentions and the nonpartisan process that has led to appointment of capable, well-qualified, and conscientious justices for the past three generations. The saving grace for the court is that it generally functions as a court, apart from politics. Kansans should do everything they can to keep it that way.”

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House Panel Approves Florida Judicial Term Limits Bill

A proposal for term limits on appellate and state Supreme Court judges was approved by the Florida House Judiciary Committee along party lines, with one Democrat calling it “the worst bill moving through the Legislature” this season.

Republican backers have called the proposal a means to achieve more accountability of top judges, according to The News Service of Florida, while Democratic critics portray it as retaliation against court rulings that have displeased legislators.

The board of governors of The Florida Bar opposes the bill. You can learn more about it from Gavel Grab. The measure now goes to the full House.

Terms Limits Proposal in Oklahoma Would Affect High Court Judges

Proposals for term limits for state Supreme Court justices are among bills under consideration in Oklahoma that would affect the judiciary and judicial selection, Oklahoma Supreme Court Vice Chief Justice Douglas Combs told an American Board of Trial Advocates audience.

TulsaWorld.com reported about Combs’s remarks, “State lawmakers are considering changing today’s court system that includes term limits for the appellate courts to 12 years, reducing the Oklahoma Bar Association involvement in the judicial selection and requiring Senate confirmation for the chief justice.” Combs voiced concern about how the term limits proposal, if enacted, would affect judges’ willingness to serve.  (more…)

Kansas Legislators Pass Bill to End Court Budget Threat

A bill addressing the threat of a court shutdown over a dispute about the power of the Kansas Supreme Court won final approval by the state legislature on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

The bill repeals a law passed in 2015 that had the potential to undermine the entire court system’s budget (see Gavel Grab). The repealed law was backed by Republican lawmakers and was associated with lawmakers’ unhappiness with court rulings.

But the conservative lawmakers said they never intended to shut down the courts and voted almost unanimously in favor of the funding bill. The only voice of dissent in either chamber was one no vote by a lone Republican who said that “the process for selecting Supreme Court justices is ‘largely unaccountable to our democratic process.’”

State Senate to Vote on Keeping Kansas Courts Open

The Kansas Senate was preparing to vote on Thursday on a House-passed bill that would keep the entire state court system funded, following an end to a legal dispute over court funding, The Associated Press said.

Such a Senate vote would dispel a cloud cast over this funding by legislation passed last year, widely viewed by defenders of fair and impartial courts as a political attack on the judiciary (see Gavel Grab for background). (more…)

House Committee Approves Florida Judicial Term Limits Bill

florida-state-flagA Florida House Committee voted 13-6 on Thursday in support of a proposed constitutional amendment to impose term limits on appellate judges.

As the House Appropriations Committee divided along party lines, Republican backers contended the measure would bring more accountability to judges, and they said an existing retention (up-or-down) election system is falling short of providing accountability.

Democratic leaders, in turn, questioned whether the proposal is more closely targeted at retaliating against judges with whom Republican legislators disagree. Sunshine State News noted that conservative legislators have been repeatedly thwarted by the state’s highest court on redistricting and other issues, when the court found the legislature’s action unconstitutional. (more…)

Another Attack: Bill to Shrink WA Court, Elect Justices by Districts

A year ago, Gavel Grab asked, “How many ways are there for Washington legislators to lash out at the Washington Supreme Court over its funding decisions about K-12 public education?” This week, with help from Gavel to Gavel, it has been disclosed that the answer is, “Even more.”

Alternate proposals submitted unsuccessfully in the Washington legislature in 2014 and 2015 have been combined into one new bill, according to Gavel to Gavel, which tracks court legislation in the states. The new measure would  would shrink the court dramatically from nine members to five, through attrition, and would have justices elected from five geographic districts to be drawn in the state. (more…)

Will Kansas Judiciary Be Spared The Ax?

Kansas_quarter,_reverse_side,_2005Acting quickly to avert a zeroing out of Kansas court funding, state legislators appear to be sparing the third branch “the ax,” said The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog. The situation in Kansas continues to capture national media attention.

On Thursday, committees in each chamber of the Kansas legislature unanimously approved bills to keep the state courts open, the Associated Press said. They voted to dispel a cloud cast over this funding by legislation passed last year in what widely was viewed by defenders of fair and impartial courts as a political attack on the judiciary (see Gavel Grab for background).

A Lawrence Journal-World editorial, meanwhile, warned that given Gov. Sam Brownback’s call this week to change the way state Supreme Court justices are chosen, there still is controversy ahead for the state’s judiciary. The editorial took a dim view of Brownback’s prescription: (more…)

Political ‘Power Grab’ Seen in Judicial Term Limits Proposal

state.seal-floridaA group called the Florida Access to Justice Project is the latest to register its strong opposition to a proposal for judicial term limits in Florida.

“This term-limit proposal is another transparent attempt at a power grab by politicians who want to weaken our courts,” said Progress Florida’s Mark Ferrulo in a statement on behalf of the Florida Access to Justice Project.

“Partisans in Tallahassee have been attacking our court system for years now,” Ferrulo said, according to the Florida Politics web site. “Fortunately, the voters of Florida have seen through and rejected their efforts every time. We don’t need to limit the terms of the judges on our highest courts: We need experienced, seasoned jurists on the bench, and we need to keep politics out of our judicial system.” (more…)

In Annual Speech, Will Brownback Swat at Court Again?

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback “likely will take aim” at the state Supreme Court again when he delivers his State of the State address on Tuesday evening, The Wichita Eagle reported.

In his addresses each of the past two years, the Republican governor has criticized the court to resounding applause from Republican legislators, the newspaper said. He called last year for changes to the merit-based appointment system by which state Supreme Court justices are chosen. The legislature has not acted, yet.

“With an important school finance court decision looming that could force the state to spend millions more on schools,” the newspaper said,  Brownback is likely to assail the court again.