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Kansas Supreme Court Strikes Down Law Threatening Judicial Independence

A 2014 law stripping power from the high court is unconstitutional and a violation of the separation of powers doctrine, the court ruled, setting up a showdown over a separate law on funding for the judiciary in Kansas.

December 23, 2015

The Kansas Supreme Court today struck down a 2014 law stripping the high court of its administrative authority over district courts, ruling that the measure was unconstitutional and a violation of the separation of powers doctrine.

The decision sets up a showdown over a separate law on funding for the judiciary in Kansas.

Earlier this year, Gov. Sam Brownback (R) signed a judicial budget bill that funded the state courts over the next two years. The bill, however, contained a clause stipulating that if any Kansas court strikes down the 2014 law, as the high court did today, the entire Kansas court system would lose funding. The defunding provision is currently subject to a temporary injunction, which will expire on March 16, 2016. 

Larry T. Solomon, Chief Judge for Kansas’ Thirtieth Judicial District, challenged both the administrative authority and judicial budget bill in separate lawsuits. He is joined in the lawsuit challenging the judicial budget bill by three other judges, and the case is currently pending before the state trial court.

“Today’s ruling is a major victory for fair and impartial courts in Kansas,” said Alicia Bannon, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “This unconstitutional law was a clear violation of the separation of powers between the courts and the political branches, and an inappropriate attempt by the legislature to interfere with the operation of the courts. The supreme court’s decision upholds the will of the people and ensures Kansas courts remain free and independent.”

“This statute threatened the Kansas Supreme Court’s ability to administer the courts and thus the very principle of the separation of powers, which is a bedrock of the rule of law,” added Michael Blechman of Kaye Scholer LLP. “We are thrilled the high court defended the independence of the judiciary in its decision today.”

“The Kansas legislature and Governor Brownback overreached their constitutional authority,” said Pedro Irigonegaray of Irigonegaray & Associates, Chief Judge Solomon’s Kansas lawyer. “Today, the Kansas Supreme Court agreed, and explained why this power grab could not stand.”

“The decision today is a victory for the Kansas Constitution and the separation of powers,” said Ryan Wright, executive director of Kansans for Fair Courts. “The Kansas Supreme Court continues to be the only remaining branch of the government that is protecting Kansans from the political grab that is underway by politicians in Topeka. Today was a good day for democracy and our fair and impartial courts.”

Chief Judge Solomon is represented by the Brennan Center for Justice, Kaye Scholer LLP, and Irigonegaray & Associates. The suit challenging the state’s court funding bill, Fairchild v. Kansas, is currently being considered by the state District Court.