Opinion Columns & Blogs

Brownback joins Legislature to coerce courts

The best thing that can be said about Gov. Sam Brownback’s Thursday signing of the two-year judicial budget bill is that it insulated the courts from any furloughs affecting state government. But the bill, which many lawmakers felt they had no choice but to vote for, is a serious violation of the separation of powers. It contains language that will defund the judiciary if any Kansas court stays or strikes down any part of a 2014 court reform law as unconstitutional. And how could it not be, when the state constitution says the Supreme Court has “general administrative authority over all courts in this state” and the 2014 law stripped the high court’s authority over local court budgets and the selection of local chief judges? As Matthew Menendez, counsel at New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, said Friday: “This bill represents an unconstitutional attempt to intimidate Kansas judges. Judges must be free to decide cases based on the law, without fear that their decisions could shut down Kansas’ judicial system.” With the two-year court budget bill, legislators clearly were aiming to influence the outcome of a challenge to the 2014 law by a Kingman County judge. By signing the bill into law, with no comment about the coercive language, Brownback sanctioned this power grab. – Rhonda Holman