Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Court Funding' Category

Opinion: ‘Staggering Price’ for Inadequate AL Court Funding

2000px-Seal_of_Alabama.svgThere is a “staggering price in dollars and in human life” as a result of Alabama legislators inadequately funding an overburdened judicial system, activist Clete Wetli warns in an opinion. He commends Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore for standing up for adequate court funding.

“Tragically,” Wetli explains, “the concept of a speedy trial has become a punchline in a bad joke as we continue to ask our municipal, district, and circuit court judges to do the impossible with larger caseloads, less staff, and fewer community resources. To add insult to injury, the revenue raised by the court system goes just about everywhere else instead of actually funding the court system, which is forced to beg the legislature for adequate support staff or modest cost-of-living increases.”

Wetli concludes, “Our ‘hung-jury’ legislators need to wake up and realize that the only verdict that makes sense is to increase funding to our court system.”

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Column: Kansas Judges are Now ‘The Pariahs of State Government’

slide_241737_1303588_freeThe drumbeat of criticism directed at the Kansas legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback for attacking state courts is not abating.

“Kansas judges have been the pariahs of state government ever since Gov. Sam Brownback and conservative lawmakers took over the reins of power,” Barbara Shelly wrote in a Kansas City Star column this week. She outlined a series of past attacks, then zeroed in on legislation passed this year and signed by Brownback for funding state courts, which also would defund the courts if they defy the legislature’s will and overturn a specific statute. That statute takes away the high court’s authority to name chief district judges.

The Kansas Legislature is using funding for the court system as a club to coerce the state’s highest court into a ruling it finds favorable,” Shelly wrote. “Lawyers in Kansas say the maneuver takes their breath away. A staffer at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York, which tracks threats to an independent judiciary, says he’s never seen anything like it. Anywhere. Only in Kansas.” She said it crossed the line.

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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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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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Are Kansas Courts Facing ‘Extortion’ Try by Legislators?

A chorus of critics is finding fault with the Kansas legislature for efforts to link judicial branch funding with how Kansas courts rule on an administrative overhaul measure written into law earlier.

welcome-to-kansas“Sounds a little like extortion, or at least a lesser included offense, doesn’t it?” asked Martin Hawver in a commentary by Hawver News Co.

“The legislature is also on the verge of passing a bill to de-fund the state’s court system in the event that the state supreme court does not rule the way the legislators want, regarding the appointment of lower-court judges. This is a real bill that may pass, not a parody from The Onion or The Daily Show,” wrote Michael A. Smith, who teaches political science at Emporia State University, in the Hays Post. Read more

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Editorial Hammers KS Legislature Over ‘Destructive Ideas’


Kansas legislators continue to attract criticism from state media, as evidenced by a recent Kansas City Star editorial.

The legislative session has been extended, at the cost of $43,00 a day, to try and cover a historic budget shortfall. One “particularly malicious measure” ties funding for the entire state judiciary to the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling on a controversial bill that changed how chief judges are selected, the editorial says:

“One can quibble with the method of selecting chief justices. But threatening to defund the state’s court system is a vengeful and dangerous tactic. Basically, lawmakers are attempting to extort Supreme Court justices to rule in the Legislature’s favor or be shut down.

Conservative Kansas lawmakers have been disrespectful of the state’s courts and judges since rulings on school funding and other matters didn’t go their way. But their willingness to deprive Kansas citizens of a working court process is shocking.”

Other suggested changes  eliminating the Kansas Bioscience Authority, and scraping “a sales tax exemption that helps school, local governments and nonprofit hospitals manage construction costs.”

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Judicial Funding May Be Tied To Decision in Kansas

Tension is escalating between legislators and the judiciary in Kansas, where the legislature is prepared to tie funding of the state judiciary to a controversial measure that changed the way the state court system is administered.  Last year, the state Supreme Court was stripped of a number of management and budgetary authorities over lower state courts, under legislation that was widely seen as part of an ongoing series of hostile actions toward the state court system.  The constitutionality of the legislation is currently being challenged in a lawsuit.

Now, the Lawrence Journal World reports that the legislature has approved a budget for the judicial system, with a condition:  it would cut off all court funding if the Supreme Court rules that the reallocation of authority within the court system is indeed unconstitutional. Opponents say the tactic is an overt power grab, with legislators striving to influence the Supreme Court, and question the constitutionality of one branch of government effectively shutting down another branch by de-funding it.  Supporters say it is appropriate for the courts’ budget to be linked to its policies.  

The bill is now before both chambers, and will go to a simple vote with no opportunity for amendments.

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