Politics & Government

Injunction puts on hold law that would lead to defunding courts in Kansas

The stay on enforcement of the court defunding provision will last until March 15, when the Legislature will be in session and able to pass a court funding bill if necessary.
The stay on enforcement of the court defunding provision will last until March 15, when the Legislature will be in session and able to pass a court funding bill if necessary. File photo

An injunction issued Tuesday has headed off a potential constitutional crisis between the Kansas Supreme Court and the Legislature that had threatened to shut down courts across Kansas.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced Tuesday that a Neosho County court has put on hold a law passed earlier this year that would defund courts if the courts overturn a law changing the way chief district judges are selected.

The stay on the defunding provision will last until March 15, when the Legislature will be in session and able to pass a court funding bill if necessary.

The Supreme Court has traditionally chosen chief judges under its constitutional authority to administer court operations.

The Legislature, which has been at odds with the Supreme Court over school finance, sought to take away that power and allow judges in the district courts to choose their own chiefs.

After passing the change in the selection process, the Legislature sought to add a poison pill to its judicial budget bill to prevent the Supreme Court from overturning the new law, which has been challenged in a case called Solomon v. Kansas.

A Topeka district judge has ruled the new selection law is unconstitutional but put a stay on his ruling while the state appeals.

“If the stay in Solomon were lifted, (the budget bill) would require Defendant Secretary of Administration and Plaintiff State of Kansas to stop all judicial branch funding, which would wreak havoc throughout the State,” said the injunction order, prepared by Schmidt’s office and signed by Judge Daryl D. Ahlquist of Neosho County.

Since the initial ruling in the Solomon case, “Key legislators have indicated that the Legislature did not intend … to eliminate funding for the judicial branch of state government,” Schmidt’s motion said.

Schmidt also wrote that Gov. Sam Brownback, who signed the judicial budget bill into law, has indicated he doesn’t want it to shut down the state’s courts either.

“Today’s district court’s order prevents any risk of judicial shutdown until at least next spring when the Legislature is back in session and can either change the law or quickly respond to any court ruling,” Schmidt said in a statement. “This delay should eliminate talk of any ‘constitutional crisis,’ except perhaps among outside groups itching for a fight, and will give every Kansan involved an opportunity to thoughtfully reassess the situation.”

Rep. Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he had discussed the matter with the attorney general and agreed with putting the defunding provision on hold.

He said he still supports allowing local judges to have more control over their operations, but the injunction will “give us the time to allow that to go through the legislative process again while ensuring our courts are open to continue to perform their function.”

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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