Kansas Supreme Court Should Strike Down Law Threatening Judicial Independence

December 10, 2015

The Kansas Supreme Court will hear appellate arguments today on whether a 2014 law stripping the high court of its administrative authority over district courts is unconstitutional and violates the separation of powers doctrine.

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, the entire Kansas court system would lose funding. Today’s argument follows a September 2015 District Court decision that the 2014 law was unconstitutional, a ruling that was immediately put on hold to prevent defunding the entire Kansas court system. Kansas appealed the ruling to the state supreme court.

Larry T. Solomon, Chief Judge for Kansas’ Thirtieth Judicial District, challenged both the administrative authority and judicial budget bill in separate lawsuits. Today, attorneys for Chief Judge Solomon will urge the Kansas Supreme Court to strike down the 2014 law stripping the high court of its administrative authority.

“We urge the Kansas Supreme Court to strike down this unconstitutional law, which is a clear violation of the government’s separation of powers,” said Kate Berry, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “In September, a lower court rightly rejected the legislature’s attempt to interfere with the operation of the unified state court system. Today, the supreme court has the opportunity to uphold the will of the people and ensure Kansas courts remain fair and independent.”

“This statute threatens 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.

“The Kansas legislature and Governor Brownback have overreached their constitutional authority. In today’s argument to the court, we have explained why this power grab cannot stand,” said Pedro Irigonegaray of Irigonegaray & Associates, Chief Judge Solomon’s Kansas lawyer. 

“Not only is this law a clear attempt to punish the high court for a decision unpopular with the politicians, it also stands in violation of the separation of powers doctrine,” said Ryan Wright, executive director of Kansans for Fair Courts. “Judges should be free of political pressures and decide cases impartially based on the facts and the law. They should not have to worry that their decisions could be used against them for political gain.”

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.