Monday, September 7, 2015

Court Ruling Jeopardizes Funding for Kansas Judiciary - The Atlantic

Court Ruling Jeopardizes Funding for Kansas Judiciary - The Atlantic

by Russell Berman

What began as merely a fiscal mess in Kansas has become a full-blown judicial crisis.
On Wednesday, a district court ruled against the state, and threw out a 2014 law passed by Republicans that took the power of appointing chief judges away from the Kansas Supreme Court and handed it to local judges. But that rather simple question of judicial administration could have further-reaching consequences, thanks to a provision in a second law passed by the legislature earlier this spring that would cut off funding for the state’s entire court system, if the 2014 law was struck down.
Kansas officials were so worried about the consequences of the court’s decision that the state’s attorney general, Derek Schmidt, successfully filed to have the ruling stayed until the courts rule on an appeal and the validity of the 2015 law.
My immediate concern ... is that the court does not appear to have decided the validity of a ‘nonseverability’ clause contained in a later statute, which means today’s decision could effectively and immediately shut off all funding for the judicial branch of state government.

It is critical to keep the state judiciary operating.
The current dispute flows from the budget battle: Ever since the state Supreme Court in 2014 ordered the legislature to increase funding for education, Governor Sam Brownback and his allies in Topeka have sought to wrest power over appointments from the Supreme Court and make it easier to replace judges. (A majority of the justices on the high court were appointed by Brownback’s Democratic predecessor, Kathleen Sebelius.)
But critics of the legislature say Republican lawmakers have gone way too far, particularly when they crafted what one lawyer called “a draconian” contingency plan that sought to bully the courts into siding with them. “I think a fair word is extortion,” said Pedro Irigonegaray, a Kansas attorney representing Judge Larry Solomon, the chief judge who challenged the 2014 law on judicial appointments. “If you don’t do this, your salary is gone. That type of strong-arm technique did not happen by accident.” He and other lawyers have now filed a lawsuit challenging the second law in court. In a phone interview, Irigonegaray reminded me that he was born in Havana, Cuba. “This is the type of thing that we might see in a country that is undemocratic,” he said. “But in America, we deserve better.”

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