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Court Strikes Down Kansas Law, Stay Filed to Keep Courts Funded

The Kansas district court decision to strike down a 2014 law could invoke a provision clause of another law that defunds the entire Kansas court system.

September 3, 2015

ContactSeth Hoy, Brennan Center for Justice, or 646–292–8369; Randolph Sherman, Kaye Scholer LLP, or 212–836–8683; Pedro Irigonegaray, Irigonegaray & Associates, or 785–640–0660

September 3, 2015

KANSAS – A Shawnee County District Court judge ruled last night that a 2014 law stripping the Kansas Supreme Court of its administrative authority over district courts is unconstitutional and violates the separation of powers doctrine. This morning, lawyers in the case moved to stay the ruling, however, to prevent defunding of the entire Kansas court system.

Earlier this year, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) signed a judicial budget bill that funded the state courts over the next two years. The bill, however, contained a non-severability clause stipulating that if any Kansas court strikes down the 2014 law (as Judge Larry Hendricks did last night), the entire Kansas court system would lose funding. The move to stay last night’s decision until the Kansas Supreme Court can review will prevent this provision from going into effect and allow the Kansas courts to remain open.

“Striking down the 2014 law is a victory for the people of Kansas and fair courts everywhere,” said Matthew Menendez, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The court rightfully rejected the legislature’s attempt to interfere with the operation of the unified state court system. Kansas voters specifically amended the constitution to give the Kansas Supreme Court this authority. This ruling upholds the will of the people.”

“With this ruling, we plan on challenging the budget law that threatens to defund Kansas courts,” added Randolph Sherman of Kaye Scholer LLP. “We have never seen a law like this before and it is imperative that we stop it before it throws the state into a constitutional crisis.”

“If allowed to go into effect, the budgeting law would bring dire consequences for every Kansan,” said Pedro Irigonegaray of Irigonegaray & Associates, Judge Solomon’s Kansas lawyer. “Without funding, our state courts would close, criminal cases would not be prosecuted, civil matters would be put on hold, real estate could not be bought or sold, adoptions could not be completed. Justice would be delayed, potentially denied, for Kansans and for anyone else relying on our judicial system for justice. We must not allow the Kansas legislature and Governor Brownback to get away with this outrageous disregard for the rule of law and reckless disrespect for the independence of Kansas’ judiciary.”

The bill stripping the Kansas Supreme Court’s administrative authority was slated to go into effect January 1, 2016.

Larry T. Solomon, Chief Judge for Kansas’ Thirtieth Judicial District, who brought the suit ruled on last night, plans a separate legal challenge to the state’s court funding bill. He is represented by the Brennan Center for Justice, Kaye Scholer LLP, and Irigonegaray & Associates.

Read the ruling here.