Judges Challenge Law That Could Defund Entire Kansas Judicial Branch

September 4, 2015

KANSAS – Today, four district court judges filed suit against the state of Kansas challenging a provision of a budgeting law passed earlier this year that now threatens to defund the entire Kansas judiciary.

The suit alleges that, among other things, the provision violates the state constitution by significantly interfering with the judicial branch’s authority to hear and decide cases and violates the separation of powers doctrine.

In June, Gov. Brownback signed into law the challenged budgeting bill (HB 2005) that conditions all judicial funding on the viability of a 2014 law (HB 2338) that strips the Kansas Supreme Court of its administrative authority over lower courts. This week, a judge struck down that 2014 law as a violation of separation of powers, but stayed his decision to keep courts funded until it can be reviewed on appeal.

“The defunding provision would bring about a constitutional crisis,” said Matthew Menendez, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Without funding, Kansas courts would be forced to close and would not be able to uphold their constitutional duty to try and hear cases.”

“Defunding the entire judiciary would reap disastrous and irreparable consequences across the state,” added Randolph Sherman of Kaye Scholer LLP. “Without funding, criminal and civil cases would go unheard. The people of Kansas deserve better. This unjustifiable provision needs to be struck down so courts can continue to deliver the justice that people across the state are entitled to.”

“Shame on Gov. Brownback and the Kansas legislature for putting politics above the people’s constitutional right to justice,” said Pedro Irigonegaray of Irigonegaray & Associates, a Kansas lawyer representing the judges. “All Kansans seeking justice deserve to have their day in court, but without funding, day-to-day judicial functions would come to a grinding halt. Hopefully, this provision will be deemed unconstitutional before that happens. Without an independent judicial branch of government, democracy will not long survive.”

Judges in the case are Hon. Robert Fairchild, Chief Judge of the 7th Judicial District in Kansas; Hon. Jeffry Jack, district court judge of the 11th Judicial District in Kansas; Judge Larry Solomon, Chief Judge of the 30th Judicial District in Kansas; and Hon. Meryl Wilson, Chief Judge of the 21st Judicial District in Kansas. They are represented by the Brennan Center for Justice, Kaye Scholer LLP, and Irigonegaray & Associates.

Read the petition here.

To read the full challenge, contact Kate Berry at 646-292-8366 or Kate.Berry@nyu.edu.