District Court Judge Sues Kansas Over Law That Weakens Courts

February 18, 2015

For Immediate Release: February 18, 2015

Contact: Seth Hoy, seth.hoy@nyu.edu, 646-292-8369

Topeka, Kansas – Today, the Chief Judge for the Thirtieth Judicial District in Kansas Larry T. Solomon filed suit against the state of Kansas, arguing that a recent law which strips the Kansas Supreme Court of its power to administer to district courts is unconstitutional and violates separation of powers doctrine.

The law, signed by Governor Sam Brownback last spring after the state supreme court ruled against the state in a public education funding case, removes the Kansas Supreme Court’s administrative authority over local court budgets and the selection of local chief judges.

Judge Solomon filed a declaratory judgment action today asking the Shawnee County District Court to strike down the law. Judge Solomon is represented by the Brennan Center for Justice, Kaye Scholer LLP, and Irigonegaray & Associates.

“Our courts are important,” said former Kansas Governor John W. Carlin. “Laws designed to weaken the judiciary are bad for everyone. Fair-minded Kansans across the political spectrum should stand up for an independent judiciary and against partisan assaults on the Kansas Supreme Court’s constitutional authority.”

“Kansas’s unified court system, while not perfect, helps district court judges perform their constitutional responsibilities more efficiently,” said retired Chief Judge for the Twenty Eighth Judicial District in Kansas, Jerome P. Hellmer. “If left to stand, this law will fragment that system, slow case times, and delay the administration of justice. Kansans deserve timely justice, not a governor and legislature who value political gamesmanship over the rule of law.”

“This law violates the Kansas constitution,” said Matthew Menendez, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Over forty years ago, Kansas voters amended their state constitution to unify their courts under the Kansas Supreme Court’s authority. This law flies in the face of that amendment and could delay justice for all Kansans.”

“Not only is this law a clear attempt to punish the high court for an unpopular decision, it also stands in violation of the separation of powers doctrine,” said Ryan Wright, Executive Director of Kansans for Fair Courts. “Judges should be free of political pressures and decide cases impartially based on the facts and the law. They should not have to worry that their decisions could be used against them for political gain.”

Read the petition here.

Read the case page here.

Background:

Last year, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that Kansas’s education funding system was unconstitutional and ordered the legislature to fix funding gaps. During the lawsuit, the state argued that the court lacked authority to decide the matter because it was a political issue. Shortly after that ruling, the state legislature passed and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed an appropriations bill (HB 2338) that weakened the Kansas Supreme Court administrative authority over local courts.

Many saw the move as retaliatory. Now, Judge Larry T. Solomon is asking the courts to strike down the new law which stands in clear violation of Kansas’s constitution and the separations of powers doctrine.

Kansans voted to unify the state’s court system to remedy glitches and inconsistencies in court processes. Voters passed an amendment to Kansas's constitution in 1972 that explicitly gave the Kansas Supreme Court “general administrative authority over all courts in the state,” including district courts. Kansas’s new law violates that amendment, removing the authority to select chief judges from the Kansas Supreme Court and giving it to district courts.

For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Seth Hoy, seth.hoy@nyu.edu or 646-292-8369