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Solomon v. Kansas

Solomon v. Kansas involves a challenge to a law that strips the state supreme court of its power to administer to district courts.

Published: December 23, 2015
Latest Devel­op­ments:

On Decem­ber 23, the Kansas Supreme Court issued an opin­ion find­ing that HB 2338, which removed Kansas Supreme Court of admin­is­trat­ive author­ity over district courts, is uncon­sti­tu­tional.

“[T]he means of assign­ing posi­tions respons­ible to the Supreme Court and charged with effec­tu­at­ing Supreme Court policy must be in the hands of the Supreme Court, not the legis­lature. By enact­ing sec. 11 of H.B. 2338, the legis­lature asser­ted signi­fic­ant control over a consti­tu­tion­ally estab­lished essen­tial power of the Supreme Court,” wrote Justice Rosen for the major­ity. 
 
The major­ity also noted that “our hold­ing appears to have prac­tical adverse consequences to the judi­ciary budget, which the legis­lature may wish to address, even though those concerns played no part in our analysis.”
 
Justice Stegall wrote a concur­ring opin­ion, in which he stated, “While I concur in the result of today’s decision…I write separ­ately because, unfor­tu­nately, the decision of the major­ity does little to restore the proper seques­ter­ing of the three great govern­mental powers within their respect­ive depart­ments.”
 
Back­ground:

In 2014, 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’s admin­is­trat­ive author­ity over local courts. Many saw the move as retali­at­ory.

Kansans voted to unify the state’s court system to remedy what was seen as an inef­fi­cient judi­cial system. 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. Judge Solomon argues that Kansas’s new law viol­ates the consti­tu­tional amend­ment by remov­ing the author­ity to select chief judges from the Kansas Supreme Court and giving it to district courts.

In Septem­ber 2014, Bren­nan Center coun­sel Matt Menen­dez was featured on a KCUR radio segment and on an edition of Up to Date to discuss HB 2338's impact on fair and impar­tial courts. 

In Octo­ber 2014, the Bren­nan Center for Justice, along with the Kansas Values Insti­tute and Kansans for Fair Courts, sent a letter to Governor Sam Brown­back and state lead­ers urging the repeal of HB 2338.

On Febru­ary 18, 2015, Larry T. Solomon, the Chief Judge for the Thir­ti­eth Judi­cial District in Kansas, repres­en­ted by the Bren­nan Center, Irigoneg­aray & Asso­ci­ates, and Kaye Scholer LLP, filed suit against the state of Kansas, arguing HB 2338 is uncon­sti­tu­tional and viol­ates the separ­a­tion of powers doctrine.

After the case was filed, the Kansas legis­lature passed, and Governor Brown­back signed, HB 2005, which provided condi­tioned the entire judi­cial budget on the ongo­ing viab­il­ity of HB 2338. In other words, if HB 2338 were struck down, the Kansas judi­ciary would be defun­ded.

Related Case:
The Bren­nan Center and co-coun­sel filed suit on Octo­ber 9 repres­ent­ing four district court judges in Fairchild v. Kansas, a chal­lenge to the nonsever­ab­il­ity provi­sion within HB 2005. The peti­tion alleges that, among other things, the nonsever­ab­il­ity 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. The suit had origin­ally been filed on Septem­ber 4 but was dismissed follow­ing removal to federal court and refiled on Octo­ber 9.
 
Previ­ous Devel­op­ments:

On Febru­ary 18, 2015, Judge Solomon filed a declar­at­ory judg­ment action 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. The Defend­ant filed in support of dismiss­ing the suit on March 26. On May 14, Judge Solomon’s legal team filed a memo in oppos­i­tion to the Defend­ant’s motion to dismiss and in support of a cross-motion for summary judg­ment. Defend­ant then submit­ted a combined reply in support of its motion to dismiss and response to Plaintiff’s motion for summary judg­ment. On July 8, Judge Solomon’s coun­sel filed a reply brief with the court.

On Septem­ber 2, Shawnee County District Judge Hendricks issued an opin­ion find­ing the chal­lenged law to be uncon­sti­tu­tional as a viol­a­tion of Kansas’ separ­a­tion of powers doctrine. The state of Kansas appealed the case to the state supreme court.

District Court Docu­ments:

Supreme Court Docu­ments:

Amicus Briefs (Supreme Court)