Opinion: Political Attacks on Kansas Courts to Continue

Following yesterday’s approval of a bill expanding the grounds for impeachment of Kansas Supreme Court Justices (see Gavel Grab), Ed Flentje, a professor emeritus at Wichita State University, explores the ongoing attempts by Governor Sam Brownback and Republican lawmakers to take political control of the Kansas Supreme Court in the Arkansas City Traveller.

According to Flentje, they have been brazen and overt in their efforts to “pack the court with partisan judges.” As evidence, he quotes Brownback:

“In 2012 Governor Sam Brownback badgered Tim Owens, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, with a clear message: ‘let us change the way we select judges so we can get judges who will vote the way we want them to.’”

Flentje writes that though the courts have withstood the barrage so far, he expects more attacks before the current legislative session draws to a close:

“Majority lawmakers may try again to put forward constitutional amendments that eliminate or politicize procedures for selecting judges on the basis of merit or take actions that threaten court funding or impartial justice in various ways.”

All of this, he argues, will be followed by campaigns targeting individual judges in November when many stand for retention election:

“Groups will be campaigning for and against individual judges, and confusion over largely unknown judges will easily arise. Moreover, state campaign laws do not apply to these statewide retention elections, so voters will not know who is advocating for or against individual judges or financing various campaigns.”

Flentje concludes by warning that the presidential election and other critical legislative races could prove to be a costly distraction to voters this year with the struggle over the courts continuing, and “impartial justice and judicial independence are at risk.”