Vote Planned on Impeachment Bill; JAS Decries ‘Attacks on Courts’


BULLETIN: A legislative committee debate over judicial impeachment legislation in Kansas was postponed until Thursday, the Associated Press said. 

A Kansas Senate Committee was planning to vote today on a proposal to expand the grounds for impeaching state Supreme Court justices, and an Associated Press article quoted Justice at Stake about cascading political attacks on the courts there.

“The attacks on the courts in Kansas have definitely been coming faster and more furious than in other states,” said Debra Erenberg, JAS director of state affairs. “It just seems like the Legislature has been throwing everything it can think of at the courts.”

The expanded grounds for impeachment would include any judicial effort to “usurp” the authority of legislators. Justice at Stake has called the bill “clearly unconstitutional” (see Gavel Grab). It comes as conservative legislators bridle at court decisions that displease them, including orders on funding of public education, and it is “part of an intensified effort in red states to reshape courts still dominated by moderate judges from earlier administrations,” according to the AP. (more…)

Florida House Passes Proposal for Judicial Term Limits

A proposal for term limits on appellate and state Supreme Court judges narrowly won approval in the Florida House, while one newspaper forecast it “faces a likely dead end in the Senate.”

The proposal was approved 76-38 in the House, with 72 votes needed to approve a constitutional amendment, according to The Associated Press. Meanwhile, MyPalmBeachPost said little interest has been shown in the plan in the state Senate and it likely will languish there.

During House debate, Democratic Rep. Jose Rodriguez said that the proposal hinted of retaliation against court decisions that displeased certain legislators. “[F]or many of us, this has a flavor of retribution,” he said. (more…)

Kansas Judicial Impeachment Bill Debate Delayed

A Kansas Senate debate on a controversial judicial impeachment bill (see Gavel Grab) was delayed on Monday, according to the Associated Press and the Kansas media.

A particularly divisive aspect of the bill was the addition of “attempting to usurp” the power of the Legislature as a legal grounds to impeach a member of the judiciary, and the Associated Press cited a statement put out by JAS criticizing the bill (see Gavel Grab) as unconstitutional. (more…)

Kobach: Kansas High Court Has ‘Gone off the Rails’

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has assailed the Kansas Supreme Court, saying it “has gone off the rails” and urging the Republican voters not to retain four of five justices who will stand for retention in November.

A blog of The Kansas City Star reported, “Kris Kobach rails against Kansas Supreme Court.” He alluded in his remarks at a GOP state convention to a controversial ruling by the state’s highest court on public education funding (see Gavel Grab).

Meanwhile, a proposal to change the way appellate Kansas judges are selected, by revising the composition of a judicial nominating commission, “would make the court selection process far more political,” a Lawrence Journal-World editorial said. (more…)

Kansas Judicial Impeachment Bill is Unconstitutional, JAS Says

Capitol-from-NWA judicial impeachment bill that was advanced by a Kansas Senate committee this week is unconstitutional and represents a political attack on Kansas courts, Justice at Stake said on Friday. JAS Executive Director Susan Liss said:

“This is the latest attack on Kansas courts by politicians who have repeatedly been willing to cross the lines of constitutionality to intimidate the state’s courts, especially its Supreme Court. It wasn’t enough for politicians to threaten a complete shutdown of the state’s court system at the expense of its citizens, or to attempt to tear down the state’s constitutionally-created centralized court system. Now, the political tampering with courts extends to a list of ‘impeachable’ judicial offenses that would be laughable if it weren’t so disturbing.

“This bill is clearly unconstitutional. The bill greatly expands the offenses for which Supreme Court justices in particular can be impeached by including overbroad and vague categories. And there has been no effort to follow the required process for seeking voter consent for a constitutional amendment.”


Former Dade County Bar President Criticizes Judicial Term Limits

An opinion piece in the Miami Herald by Ervin Gonzalez, a former chair of Florida’s Judicial Nominating Commission and president of Dade County Bar Association, criticizes the proposed introduction of judicial term limits (see Gavel Grab) for the state’s Supreme Court justices.

Gonzalez criticizes the term limits bill, which recently passed through the House committee stage, calling it a “politically motivated measure proposed by the Florida lawmakers” that could undermine the separation of powers and “open the door to greater legislative and gubernatorial influence over the judiciary.”

He points out that no other state has imposed similar judicial term limits and that “ballot measures for judicial term limits have been defeated in the past by the voters of Colorado, Nevada and Mississippi.” “Lawmakers should rise above politics and do what is right for the court system, as well as Florida residents, businesses and property owners, by rejecting this bill.”


In Kansas, Heightened Anger Over High Court Rulings

Conservatives’ anger with several rulings of the Kansas Supreme Court is simmering and fueling legislation expanding grounds to impeach justices (see Gavel Grab) and potential pressure when five of them face retention (up-or-down) votes this year, The Topeka Capital-Journal reports.

Several of the controversial rulings involve public education funding (click here for Gavel Grab) and a death sentence case (click here) where the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed. “Those seeking to remove a justice face an uphill climb,” the newspaper reports. “But justices are hobbled when fighting to keep their seats” by judicial ethics restraints governing campaigning.

In The Wichita Eagle, meanwhile, attorney F. James Robinson Jr. decries another way elected politicians are trying to reshape the state’s highest court, by changing the way its justice are selected to give more influence to the governor. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback essentially is trying to stack the high court to his liking in the same way President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought unsuccessfully to do in the 1930s, Robinson writes. (more…)

Praise, Scorn for Kansas School Funding Decision

Gov. Sam Brownback lit into the Kansas Supreme Court after it struck down the legislature’s “block grant” plan to provide public school financing and gave the state until June 30 to enact an “equitable” school funding formula or risk shutdown of its public schools.

“Kansas has among the best schools in the nation and an activist Kansas Supreme court is threatening to shut them down,” Brownback said, according to KSN-TV. “We will review this decision closely and work with the Legislature to ensure the continued success of our great Kansas schools.” Amid ongoing tension with the high court over school funding and other issues, Brownback and allies have sought to change the way its justices are selected (see Gavel Grab), and one such effort recently was defeated in the state House. (more…)

Governor Signs Measure Keeping Kansas Courts Open

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has signed legislation to keep the entire state court system funded, following an end to a legal dispute over court funding.

This funding was jeopardized by legislation passed last year, widely viewed by defenders of fair and impartial courts as a political attack on the judiciary (see Gavel Grab for background).

More recently the legislature voted to repeal the controversial provision stating that if the courts struck down a statute that removed authority of the Supreme Court to name district court chief judges, (more…)

‘Political War’ Against KS High Court Chronicled in New Yorker

Kansas-Flag-2For many months, elected officials in Kansas have put state courts in the crosshairs, and Gavel Grab has followed the ongoing saga incrementally. It has grabbed national attention. Now The New Yorker recaps this important battle in a piece titled “The Political War Against the Kansas Supreme Court”; it cites Justice at Stake.

Writer Lincoln Caplan depicts a struggle by elected leaders to politicize an impartial court. He discusses efforts to junk merit selection of Supreme Court justices (one proposal was defeated last week, see Gavel Grab, and another would replace merit selection with popular election) and also upcoming retention (up-or-down) elections for five of the seven justices, and he concludes:

“Elections often make judges indistinguishable from politicians, and judging indistinguishable from politics. As of now, when reasonable citizens disagree with rulings of the Kansas Supreme Court, they mainly trust its good intentions and the nonpartisan process that has led to appointment of capable, well-qualified, and conscientious justices for the past three generations. The saving grace for the court is that it generally functions as a court, apart from politics. Kansans should do everything they can to keep it that way.”