Gavel Grab

Justice at Stake: Ax Now Hangs Over Funding of Kansas Courts

welcome-to-kansas“An ax is hanging” over funding of the entire Kansas state court system because “elected officials … chose to make political pawns of state courts,” Justice at Stake said on Thursday after a ruling by a Shawnee Court judge a day earlier (see Gavel Grab).

Judge Larry Hendricks struck down as unconstitutional a 2014 statute taking away from the state Supreme Court the authority to pick chief district judges. “This ruling is a victory, but more needs to be done,” said Liz Seaton, Interim Executive Director of Justice at Stake, in a statement. Because another law said Kansas courts would be defunded if the provision were struck down, questions immediately were raised about possible defunding of the state judiciary.

“We know that lawyers in the case have asked for a stay of this week’s ruling to prevent that from happening,” Seaton said. “Meanwhile, the health, safety and welfare of all Kansans hang in the balance.” (Later on Thursday, an emergency stay of the order was granted, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.)

“Striking down the 2014 law is a victory for the people of Kansas and fair courts everywhere,” said Matthew Menendez, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, who assisted the plaintiff in the case, Judge Larry Solomon.  “The court rightfully rejected the legislature’s
attempt to interfere with the operation of the unified state court system. Kansas voters specifically amended the constitution to give the Kansas Supreme Court this authority. This ruling upholds the will of the people.”

“If allowed to go into effect, the budgeting law would bring dire consequences for every Kansan,” said Pedro Irigonegaray, a Kansas lawyer for the plaintiff, Judge Larry Solomon. “Without funding, our state courts would close, criminal cases would not be prosecuted, civil matters would be put on hold, real estate could not be bought or sold, adoptions could not be completed. Justice would be delayed, potentially denied, for Kansans and for anyone else relying on our judicial system for justice. We must not allow the Kansas legislature and Governor Brownback to get away with this outrageous disregard for the rule of law and reckless disrespect for the independence of Kansas’ judiciary.”

The Brennan Center is a JAS partner organization.

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