Editorial on Independent Judiciary: ‘We Mess With It At Our Peril’

welcome-to-kansasA scathing editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch decries politicians’ attacks on the Kansas Supreme Court and warns of the perils of tampering with fair and impartial courts, whether through legislation or judicial elections.

The editorial is headlined, “When two branches of government declare war on the third.” It chronicles the fury of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and allies in the legislature with most of the state Supreme Court’s justices, “who insist on applying the law instead of rubber-stamping whatever the Legislature passes.” The editorial says:

“Politicizing the judiciary is always a bad idea, but Kansas is taking a bad idea to new depths. The state Senate last month passed a bill making ‘attempting to usurp the power’ of the Legislature or executive branch an impeachable offense.”


Author: Individual Liberties at Risk From Judicial Impeachment Bill

The potential harm from a Kansas bill expanding the legal grounds for impeachment of state Supreme Court justices is taken to a Code Red alert by author Davis Merritt in a Wichita Eagle blog.

“SB 439 is designed to destroy the concept of co-equal and independent legislative, executive and judicial branches that is so vital to everyone’s liberty,” Merritt writes. Borrowing from constitutional scholar Alan Hirsch about impeachment, Merritt continues, “Under it, justices would serve at the pleasure of the legislators rather than as independent adjudicators. And when that happens, we will have reached Hirsch’s ‘triumph of power politics and partisanship over democracy.’” (more…)

Editorial: Impeachment Bill a Means to Punish KS Judges

Knowing the Kansas Supreme Court has done no wrong, and that no members of it have committed high crimes or misdemeanors, Kansas legislators merely are trying to punish the court for opinions that have riled them up — and that’s the basis for overly broad legislation defining new grounds for the justices’ impeachment.

This is the opinion expressed by a Topeka Capital-Journal editorial this week after state Senate passage of the judicial impeachment bill (see Gavel Grab). The editorial was headlined, “Bill puts court at state’s mercy/Supreme Court’s impeachable offenses can be whatever the Legislature decides.” (more…)

Kansas Editorial: Time to Let Judicial Impeachment Bill Die

Capitol-from-NWLegislators who pushed to passage in the Kansas Senate an overly broad definition of the legal grounds for impeaching state Supreme Court justices made their point and now should “let the issue die,” a Lawrence Journal-World editorial says.

The editorial calls the measure a “transparent legislative power grab” and “a barely veiled warning to Supreme Court justices who have declared the state’s school finance system unconstitutional.” The measure tramples on the separation of powers and is likely unconstitutional, it added.

For the good of Kansas, the House ought to let the legislation languish, the editorial contends. It is titled, “Impeachment antics.” The bill’s definitions of grounds for impeachment include any judicial effort to usurp the authority of the legislative or executive branches. For background and explanation of Justice at Stake’s opposition to the measure, see Gavel Grab.

Commentary on Judicial Impeachment Bill: ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out’

Garbage In, Garbage Out,” declares one of the latest plain-speaking Kansas media commentaries about the state legislature’s advancing a bill to expand the legal grounds for impeaching state Supreme Court justices (see Gavel Grab).

In the Hays Daily News commentary, Patrick Lowry describes the legislation this way: “In other words, the Kansas Supreme Court had better find favor with all the craziness passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor — or else.” He adds, “This bill is the codification of wildly unsubstantiated conspiracy theories dearly held by individuals who claim to be protecting the Constitution but in reality have no idea what the document contains.”

The bill includes among newly defined legal grounds for impeachment a judicial attempt to usurp the authority of the legislature or executive branch. The Associated Press quotes Justice at Stake as calling the measure “an affront to democracy,” and notes that Republican Rep. Steve Becker, a retired district court judge, said, “It would render the Supreme Court useless, basically.” (more…)

Kansas Senate Approves Judicial Impeachment Bill by 21-19 Vote

Capitol-from-NWThe Kansas Senate narrowly approved on Tuesday by a 21-19 vote, for final passage, a bill expanding grounds for impeachment of state Supreme Court justices to include their attempting to usurp the legislature’s authority, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal. Justice at Stake spoke out against the bill, which has not yet received a vote in the Kansas House.

“This bill is an affront to democracy and should be offensive to every Kansan,” said Susan Liss, JAS executive director, according to a different Capital-Journal article. “It is nothing more than a transparent effort by legislators to punish the Kansas Supreme Court for daring to do its job. Could this be any more self-serving? Like earlier iterations of this bill, the latest version is clearly unconstitutional.”

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Democrat, said the bill represented on the judiciary for its opinions that upset some Republicans on school finance, capital punishment and abortion. “It’s an election year,” Hensley said. “It’s a popular sport to beat up on the Supreme Court. It makes people feel good. We’re going to go after the black robes.” (more…)

JAS: Kansas Judicial Impeachment Bill ‘An Affront to Democracy’

The Kansas Senate has tentatively advanced a bill allowing for the impeachment of state Supreme Court justices if they attempt to usurp the legislature’s authority. Justice at Stake called the bill “an affront to democracy.”

“This bill is an affront to democracy and should be offensive to every Kansan. It is nothing more than a transparent effort by legislators to punish the Kansas Supreme Court for daring to do its job,” said JAS Executive Director Susan Liss in a statement. “Could this be any more self-serving? Legislators want to give themselves nearly limitless power under the Kansas Constitution so they can remove justices for any court ruling they don’t like.”

“Like earlier iterations of this bill, the latest version is clearly unconstitutional. We remain deeply concerned about these repeated efforts to undermine the constitutional authority of the Kansas court system.” (more…)

Ignore High Court on Marriage, Measure Would Tell MO Judges

State judges in Missouri would be barred from enforcing the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling that legalized marriage for same-sex couples nationally, under a proposed constitutional amendment in the state legislature.

According to Gavel to Gavel, the measure would prohibit decisions by state judges upholding Obergefell v. Hodges. The measure’s language states:

“That to be valid and recognized in this state, a marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman, regardless of any court decision to the contrary. Any court decision, including Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S.Ct. 2584 (2015), purporting to strike down marriage, as provided in this section, is unauthoritative, void, and of no effect.”


Commentary: Kansas Bill Would Remove Check on Legislators

Kansas_quarter,_reverse_side,_2005Kansas legislators pushing a bill to expand the grounds for impeachment of state Supreme Court justices are effectively “moving to intimidate and eliminate the last legal check on their ideology,” commentator Jason Probst writes in The Hutchinson News.

Approved by a Senate panel last week (see Gavel Grab), the proposal has stirred up a hornet’s nest of criticism in state editorial and op-ed pages. Probst’s column goes further than many others to note that a prominent Republican legislator, Judiciary Chairman Jeff King, opposed the bill.

King reminded his colleagues last week of a different bill passed by the legislature two years ago to remove from the state Supreme Court the authority to name chief district judges. The Supreme Court struck down the law, finding it unconstitutional. (more…)

Kansas Senate Committee Approves Judicial Impeachment Bill

BULLETIN: The Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee passed on Thursday a bill expanding grounds for impeachment of Kansas Supreme Court justices, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. Justice at Stake has called the proposal “clearly unconstitutional.”

A bill widening the grounds for impeaching Kansas Supreme Court justices was due for debate in a Senate committee today, even as its backers came under searing criticism from a Lawrence Journal-World editorial.

The bill includes as impeachment grounds a finding of discourteous conduct by justices, and any judicial attempt to usurp the authority of the legislative or executive branch. The editorial was headlined “Power Grab,” and it said the bill could upend the balance between the branches:

“Allowing the Legislature to exert that kind of control over the state’s top court represents a total breakdown in the separation of powers that is at the heart of the democratic system. The state’s courts don’t pose their own challenges to the legislative and executive branches; they respond to the concerns raised by Kansas residents. It’s the courts’ duty to give those residents an avenue to challenge the decisions of the other two branches. If the Legislature is allowed to stack the Supreme Court with supportive justices, the power of the judiciary to provide a meaningful balance of power will be lost.”