Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed into law this week a judicial budgeting bill that could plunge the state into a constitutional crisis. The bill, which provides funding for the Kansas courts over the next two years, contains a non-severability clause that strips the court of its entire budget if any Kansas court strikes down a 2014 law – currently the subject of a lawsuit — that removed the Kansas Supreme Court’s administrative authority over lower courts.
“Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, and a significant number of the members of the Kansas Legislature have, by the passage of this law, demonstrated their reckless disregard for the rule of law and their willful ignorance of Kansas' Constitution,” said Pedro Irigonegaray, a Kansas lawyer involved in the lawsuit. “Shame on them for creating an unjustifiable, unnecessary and costly constitutional crisis.”
“The Kansas Constitution is the latest victim of Governor Brownback’s failed leadership and policies,” said Ryan Wright, executive director of Kansans for Fair Courts. “We have a system of checks and balances for a reason and trying to extort our courts into ruling the way you want or changing the rules of the game to fit your agenda is undemocratic. Kansas voters chose to enshrine judicial independence in their constitution and the political branches should not interfere with the will of people.”
“This bill represents an unconstitutional attempt to intimidate Kansas judges,” said Matthew Menendez, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Judges must be free to decide cases based on the law, without fear that their decisions could shut down Kansas's judicial system.”
The bill signed yesterday specifies that if any court stays or finds unconstitutional the 2014 law (HB 2338) — which removed the Kansas Supreme Court’s administrative authority over local court budgets and the selection of local chief judges — the entire state judicial budget will be stripped away, likely leading to court closures and staff furloughs.
The state passed the 2014 law after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled against the state in a public education funding case, ordering it to fix funding gaps. Many saw the 2014 law as retaliatory.
That law is currently being challenged by Kansas Chief Judge Larry Solomon, represented by the Brennan Center for Justice, Kaye Scholer LLP, and Irigonegaray & Associates. Judge Solomon argues that the 2014 law violates the separation of powers and should be struck down as unconstitutional. That case is currently pending before the Shawnee County District Court.
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