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Court Case

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)