Gavel Grab

Court Panel’s School Funding Ruling Put on Hold in Kansas

The Kansas Supreme Court has granted a freeze of a lower court ruling that struck down the legislature’s block grant plan for funding public schools and ordered Kansas to pay $50 million for public schools (see Gavel Grab).

Chief Justice Lawton Nuss signaled that the high court would move quickly to hear arguments, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Regarding recent criticism by Gov. Sam Brownback and others of the lower court’s ruling, a Hays Daily News editorial stated, “The court’s role is to determine if laws pass constitutional muster. If doing their job correctly results in being called ‘activist,’ judges should wear the label proudly.”

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Brownback Assails Courts, Urges Changes to Selecting Judges

Gov. Brownback

Gov. Brownback

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has criticized the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage ruling and two Kansas Supreme Court rulings, on abortion and school funding, as politically driven and has called for a “more democratic” selection process for judges.

Earlier this year Brownback proposed changes to the way Kansas justices are selected, by either shifting to their direct election or to a Washington-style system of appointment by the chief executive and confirmation by the state Senate. The justices currently are chosen through a merit selection process.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reported Brownback’s latest views by relying on an email sent from his office to  people who have signed up for such communications. The email branded the nation’s highest court a judiciary “unrestrained by the rule of law.” Read more

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Court Panel Strikes Down Block Grant Plan for KS School Funding

KansasA Shawnee County District Court panel struck down a block grant plan that the legislature turned to for funding public schools. Gov. Sam Brownback, in turn, said the judges exceeded their authority.

The new funding plan “does nothing to alleviate the unconstitutional inadequacy of funding,” the panel said, “but rather, exacerbates it,” the Topeka Capital-Journal said. Their decision set the stage for a possible showdown between the legislature, executive branch and courts.

The panel of three judges, Brown back said, “has now taken upon itself the powers specifically and clearly assigned to the legislative and executive branches of government.” He added, “In doing so, it has replaced the judgment of Kansas voters with the judgment of unelected activist judges.” Read more

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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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Scholar’s Concern: When Politicians Browbeat Our Courts


Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican candidate for president, recently introduced a bill to bar federal courts from ruling on state marriage laws. In Huffington Post, a legal scholar calls the measure “bullying” and akin to declaring “war on the independent judiciary.”

Cruz introduced in April his Protect Marriage from the Courts Act of 2015. “Judges have taken an unprecedented activist role to strike down state marriage laws,” he said at the time.  But Law Professor Alex Glashausser of Washburn University in Topeka, Ks. writes at Huffington Post that Cruz’s approach is misguided, and like court defunding legislation recently signed into law in Kansas (see Gavel Grab), a kind of court bashing:

“This legislative attempt to restrain the judicial branch violates the separation-of-powers doctrine, and the invitation to state judges to ignore a Supreme Court decision makes a hash of the constitutional enshrinement of federal law as ‘the supreme Law of the Land.'”

“If the political branches wield necessities like jurisdiction and budgets as weapons for browbeating courts into submission, the damage to judicial independence will in turn erode the rule of law.”

Read more

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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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