There are increasing prospects for a highly politicized retention (up-or-down) election of justices on the Kansas Supreme Court this fall, a Kansas City Star editorial warns. It adds, “Voters will have to protect the Kansas Supreme Court from unfair attacks on its independence.”
While the court has sparked the ire of numerous legislators and Gov. Sam Brownback with its orders for greater spending on public education, it actually “is acting impartially and carefully on the complicated school funding issue — as Kansans expect and deserve,” the editorial says.
Four of the court’s seven justices, out of five who will be up for retention, are expected to be targeted for removal by critics who are unhappy with their rulings. Supporters of the justices are beginning to speak out. The editorial also notes that legislators are working to advance a measure that would expand the legal grounds for impeaching Kansas justices, a bill that Justice at Stake has called unconstitutional (see Gavel Grab).
A scathing editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch decries politicians’ attacks on the Kansas Supreme Court and warns of the perils of tampering with fair and impartial courts, whether through legislation or judicial elections.
The editorial is headlined, “When two branches of government declare war on the third.” It chronicles the fury of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and allies in the legislature with most of the state Supreme Court’s justices, “who insist on applying the law instead of rubber-stamping whatever the Legislature passes.” The editorial says:
“Politicizing the judiciary is always a bad idea, but Kansas is taking a bad idea to new depths. The state Senate last month passed a bill making ‘attempting to usurp the power’ of the Legislature or executive branch an impeachable offense.”
The Kansas Supreme Court, which has come under partisan attack from politicians outraged over its rulings, has agreed to consider a case involving what The Topeka Capital-Journal called “the most divisive question before it in recent years.”
The court will weigh the constitutionality of a statute barring a second-trimester abortion procedure, called “Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act.” The Kansas Court of Appeals divided 7-7 in January on an appeal involving the controversial anti-abortion statute; its deadlock meant a lower court’s decision, blocking the statute from going into effect, stayed in place.
The state Supreme Court agreed this week to consider “whether the Kansas Constitution guarantees the right to an abortion,” the Topeka newspaper said. To learn about how elected politicians have attacked the Kansas courts, with such efforts as legislation to expand the legal grounds for impeaching Supreme Court justices, see Gavel Grab.
The parallels between efforts to politicize the nation’s highest court in Washington — in the fight over a Supreme Court vacancy — and similar political efforts to influence state courts are getting more attention from analysts.
Kansas has been an increasingly contentious battleground, especially with legislation advancing to expand the legal grounds for impeachment of state Supreme Court justices (see Gavel Grab). In The Garden City Telegram, Julie Doll writes about that effort and says, “At both the state and federal level, politicians are working to make sure that judges do their bidding in court.”
A stalemate between Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and the Democratic-led state Senate over a state Supreme Court nomination by Christie (see Gavel Grab) has also sparked analogies with the struggle in Washington, where leading Senate Republicans are refusing to consider the U.S. Supreme Court nomination of Judge Merrick Garland. Read more
When two justices of the Kansas Supreme Court stopped in the Marshall County Courthouse during a recent visit to northern Kansas, their topics included general openness of court proceedings to the public and the impartial role of the court, according to The Marysville Advocate.
“We always try to make sure that people understand what our role in state government is,” Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said. “And it’s not to be popular, not to do what people want us to do. We both took an oath when we became justices to support the Constitution of the state of Kansas and the United States, and that is where our allegiance lies.”
The justices’ visit was made at a time of “increasing tensions between Kansas’ judicial branch and the executive and legislative branches,” the newspaper added. “Rightwing Republicans controlling the Legislature are unhappy with court orders to boost school funding and have threatened judicial funding in recent years. Those legislators Read more
The potential harm from a Kansas bill expanding the legal grounds for impeachment of state Supreme Court justices is taken to a Code Red alert by author Davis Merritt in a Wichita Eagle blog.
“SB 439 is designed to destroy the concept of co-equal and independent legislative, executive and judicial branches that is so vital to everyone’s liberty,” Merritt writes. Borrowing from constitutional scholar Alan Hirsch about impeachment, Merritt continues, “Under it, justices would serve at the pleasure of the legislators rather than as independent adjudicators. And when that happens, we will have reached Hirsch’s ‘triumph of power politics and partisanship over democracy.’” Read more
Knowing the Kansas Supreme Court has done no wrong, and that no members of it have committed high crimes or misdemeanors, Kansas legislators merely are trying to punish the court for opinions that have riled them up — and that’s the basis for overly broad legislation defining new grounds for the justices’ impeachment.
This is the opinion expressed by a Topeka Capital-Journal editorial this week after state Senate passage of the judicial impeachment bill (see Gavel Grab). The editorial was headlined, “Bill puts court at state’s mercy/Supreme Court’s impeachable offenses can be whatever the Legislature decides.” Read more
Legislators who pushed to passage in the Kansas Senate an overly broad definition of the legal grounds for impeaching state Supreme Court justices made their point and now should “let the issue die,” a Lawrence Journal-World editorial says.
The editorial calls the measure a “transparent legislative power grab” and “a barely veiled warning to Supreme Court justices who have declared the state’s school finance system unconstitutional.” The measure tramples on the separation of powers and is likely unconstitutional, it added.
For the good of Kansas, the House ought to let the legislation languish, the editorial contends. It is titled, “Impeachment antics.” The bill’s definitions of grounds for impeachment include any judicial effort to usurp the authority of the legislative or executive branches. For background and explanation of Justice at Stake’s opposition to the measure, see Gavel Grab.
“Garbage In, Garbage Out,” declares one of the latest plain-speaking Kansas media commentaries about the state legislature’s advancing a bill to expand the legal grounds for impeaching state Supreme Court justices (see Gavel Grab).
In the Hays Daily News commentary, Patrick Lowry describes the legislation this way: “In other words, the Kansas Supreme Court had better find favor with all the craziness passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor — or else.” He adds, “This bill is the codification of wildly unsubstantiated conspiracy theories dearly held by individuals who claim to be protecting the Constitution but in reality have no idea what the document contains.”
The bill includes among newly defined legal grounds for impeachment a judicial attempt to usurp the authority of the legislature or executive branch. The Associated Press quotes Justice at Stake as calling the measure “an affront to democracy,” and notes that Republican Rep. Steve Becker, a retired district court judge, said, “It would render the Supreme Court useless, basically.” Read more
The Kansas Senate narrowly approved on Tuesday by a 21-19 vote, for final passage, a bill expanding grounds for impeachment of state Supreme Court justices to include their attempting to usurp the legislature’s authority, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal. Justice at Stake spoke out against the bill, which has not yet received a vote in the Kansas House.
“This bill is an affront to democracy and should be offensive to every Kansan,” said Susan Liss, JAS executive director, according to a different Capital-Journal article. “It is nothing more than a transparent effort by legislators to punish the Kansas Supreme Court for daring to do its job. Could this be any more self-serving? Like earlier iterations of this bill, the latest version is clearly unconstitutional.”
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Democrat, said the bill represented on the judiciary for its opinions that upset some Republicans on school finance, capital punishment and abortion. “It’s an election year,” Hensley said. “It’s a popular sport to beat up on the Supreme Court. It makes people feel good. We’re going to go after the black robes.” Read more