Gavel Grab

Editorial: Legislation Threatens Balance of Power in Kansas

The Wichita Eagle posted an editorial criticizing the Kansas legislature for punitively striping the Supreme Court of budgetary powers.Seal_of_Kansas.svg

The state’s high court has the constitutional power over “general administrative authority over all courts in this state,” but the 2014 judicial budget countered this provision. Moreover, the law included “a non-severability clause [which] guaranteed that if a court struck down the policy changes as unconstitutional, the judicial funding would fall, too.” Partnered with the court’s recent blocking of some major legislation, the editorial contends that the move sent a “clear message”

The 2015 judicial budget, which was recently approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, contains a similar clause, but specifies the funding will be revoked for two fiscal years if the measure is ruled unconstitutional.

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Legislative-Court Battle Looms Over Kansas School Funding

A three-judge panel continues to closely monitor education funding in the Kansas state budget.

According to, the Shawnee County judges have made it clear that they plan to have a say in what happens with school financing.

All outstanding K-through-12 finance issues will be heard by the panel at a May 7 hearing. The panel sent an email to lawyers involved in the case that said, “That includes block grant legislation passed this session and how much the Legislature will spend on public schools.”

In an ongoing battle (see Gavel Grab), the panel has said that it may take action if it feels the Legislature is not properly funding education.

Four districts are suing the state, and have asked the judges to issue a temporary restraining order against the block grants. Any decision is expected to be appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court.

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Report: Strings Attached to Bill With Increased KS Court Funding

stock-footage-kansas-flag-loopA bill advancing in the Kansas legislature provides more funding for the state courts, on the condition that the courts do not rule favorably for the plaintiff in a recent lawsuit and find a law adopted last year unconstitutional.

That’s according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts, which noted, “For the second year in a row Kansas legislators appear poised to give the courts more money on the condition they do not strike down certain laws as unconstitutional.”

A year ago, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed legislation (see Gavel Grab) opposed by members of the state Supreme Court that provided increased court funding while making those funds contingent upon overhauling administration of the judicial system. The measure allowed local courts to opt out of state Supreme Court control over budget preparation and submission and took away the Supreme Court’s authority to pick chief district court judges. Read more

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KS Editorial: Even School Children Know About Checks and Balances

4332594_origAnother Kansas editorial is sharply critical of legislation that would expand the ways a state Supreme Court justice can be impeached (see Gavel Grab). The Hays Daily News editorial says the legislation tramples on the checks and balances of the three branches of government.

Among other things, the legislation would add as a grounds for impeachment any attempt to usurp the authority of the legislature. The editorial says the legislation has an agenda, and it involves elected politicians who are allied with Republican Gov. Sam Brownback retaliating against the court:

“In other words, justices who negatively evaluate the laws passed in Kansas by the Brownback bunch could be removed from office. That is not the way the system is supposed to work. Even children are being taught that in Kansas schools — at least for now.

“Brownback’s power grab has to be stopped. Laws need to be reviewed for their constitutionality, not their moral or political bent. If the executive and legislative branches are checked when they attempt to starve the education system or discriminate in the name of religion, the answer is not to replace the justices. Attempting to do so is an affront to democracy, the state, and this great nation.”

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Editorial: What About Expanding Impeachment for Elected Officials?

KansasLogoCapitolGradientBlueDisagreement with a judge “can’t be a reason to impeach anyone,” a Hutchinson (Kansas) News editorial says in taking issue with a Republican lawmaker’s legislation (see Gavel Grab) to expand the grounds for impeaching state Supreme Court justices.

The editorial not only takes issue with the legislation pushed by state Sen. Mitch Holmes, it denounces “brazen hypocrisy” by some lawmakers who would expand the reasons for impeaching judges while maintaining silence about impeaching elected officials.

Holmes “thinks it is just the judicial branch that should be subject to more liberal impeachment rules,” the editorial says. “His bill makes no mention of what happens when the legislative or executive branch tries ‘to usurp the power’ of the judicial branch. We do, after all, have in this country a three-branch system designed of each to have a check and balance on the others.” Read more

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JAS: Bill Disregards Kansas Constitution, and Checks and Balances

Kansas_quarter,_reverse_side,_2005A Kansas legislator pushing legislation to expand the grounds for impeaching state Supreme Court justices has said the courts view themselves as “autocratic” and complained about a list of their decisions. He also wants the legislation expanded to include lower-court judges.

As Gavel Grab mentioned earlier, the legislation by State Sen. Mitch Holmes, a Republican, adds as a grounds for impeachment any attempt to usurp the authority of the legislature.

Debra Erenberg, Justice at Stake Director of State Affairs, told the Hutchinson News that his legislation “stands out for its blatant disregard for the Kansas Constitution and the system of checks and balances in our democracy.” The state legislature has thrown just about everything, including the kitchen sink, at the courts this session, she said. Read more

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‘Contempt for Kansas’ Courts’ Shown by Legislators: Editorial

E69CB0D6193F5A84493B30750C6D812DKansas legislators, locked in disagreement with the judiciary  over public school funding, are finding “new ways each week to show contempt for Kansas’ courts” with legislation to bully them, a Lawrence Journal-World editorial says.

In addition to court funding legislation, a litany of other intimidation attempts includes, according to the editorial, “pending bills to lower justices’ mandatory retirement age and to replace the Kansas Court of Appeals with separate civil and criminal appellate courts. Waiting in the wings: proposed constitutional amendments that, if approved by the Legislature and voters, would have Kansas switch to direct partisan election of appellate judges, allow recall elections of judges statewide and make it harder for Supreme Court justices to survive retention votes.”

The editorial says what Kansans ought to be concerned about is how “the troubling lack of respect shown by one branch of state government for another … might lead to further assaults on the funding, authority and independence of the state judiciary. The courts must have all three in order to serve Kansans and justice properly.”


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Kansas Bill Expands Grounds for Impeaching a High Court Justice

E69CB0D6193F5A84493B30750C6D812DLegislation introduced in the Kansas Senate this week spells out circumstances for impeaching a state Supreme Court justice, and it adds as a grounds for impeachment any attempt to usurp the authority of the legislature.

Republican State Sen. Mitch Holmes, reported to be the legislator behind the bill, told the Associated Press that existing constitutional language doesn’t give guidelines to legislators. Others, however, saw in the legislation another weapon for legislators to use in attacking Kansas courts, especially at a time where the courts and the legislature have not seen eye-to-eye about public education fund.

Political science professor Chapman Rackaway of Fort Hays State University told the Hutchinson News that parts of the legislation seemed “a very clear attempt to allow the legislators to impeach justices based on decisions like Gannon” v. State of Kansas, an ongoing case over education funding.

A Lawrence Journal-World editorial said the bill’s “attempting to usurp” language “opens wide the opportunity for two branches of the Kansas government to gang up on the other in arbitrary, unethical and damaging ways.” The editorial added: Read more

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Opinion: Amid Attacks on Courts, Kansans Should be ‘Alarmed’

“Kansans should be alarmed” by the rhetoric of elected politicians in Topeka who, in their desire to exercise total control, have launched irrational attacks on state courts, Davis Merritt writes in a Wichita Eagle blog post.

Amid tensions between the legislative and judicial branches of public school funding, there are “legislative threats to limit the court’s jurisdiction, disrupt the balance of powers, gut the court’s funding and further politicize how justices are selected,” he writes.

As for elected politicians who see the Kansas court system as standing in their way, Merritt says, “Of course it is. That’s a primary duty of the judicial branch in a democracy: acting as a check on excessive power and extra-constitutional acts by either the legislative or executive branch, or, in the case of our present lockstep monolith, both.”

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Constitutional Clash Between Courts, Legislature Coming in Kansas?

welcome-to-kansasWill tensions between the legislative and judicial branches over public education funding in Kansas lead to a constitutional clash? A New York Times article examines that question against a backdrop of the governor’s seeking more power over selection of Supreme Court justices.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and the Republican-led legislature championed a new, close to $4 billion funding plan that, according to the Times, “cut tens of millions of dollars in aid intended to close disparities between rich and poor districts.” The legislation passed “even as a three-judge panel hinted that it might stay the measure while it determines whether the Legislature was breaching its financial obligations. Republican leaders have denounced the court as overstepping its bounds.”

Meanwhile Brownback and legislators have been pushing to dismantle a merit selection system for choosing state Supreme Court justices (see Gavel Grab). One alternative proposes a Washington-style system allowing direct appointment by the governor with confirmation by the state Senate. Read more

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