Gavel Grab

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.’” Read more

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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.” Read more

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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.

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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.” Read more

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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.” Read more

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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.” Read more

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Kansas Justices Discuss Job, Political Challenges

The Wichita Eagle reports that Justice Carol Beier and Chief Justice Lawton Nuss of the Kansas Supreme Court spoke with and answered questions from the public this weekend at an event where they addressed some of the challenges they face in their job.

According to the newspaper, the very first questions asked by the crowd were on the judicial impeachment bill (see Gavel Grab) and the recent efforts to change the way justices are selected (see Gavel Grab).

In response to the impeachment bill, Justice Beier said that while she has faith in the legislature to do the right thing, they have a “fairly interesting if not hostile environment to work in outside the building.” Addressing the potential selection reform, Chief Justice Nuss responded by praising the current system for its rigorousness, something he thinks the systems currently under consideration by the legislature might not offer:

“It was a very thorough vetting. It’s for people who are serious about it, and it’s competitive and you get a chance to see the credentials of the people who are applying. If you don’t have that system, you don’t know how that person who is picked stacks up.”

Addressing these developments, an opinion piece in the Garden City Telegram argues that they constitute a sustained attack on the court. The newspaper writes that Gov. Brownback and Republican lawmakers’ “interest in controlling the judiciary defies a basic principle of liberty in separation of powers that provides checks and balances among three co-equal branches of government.”

“In a powerful rebuke of the Republican faction in charge, a recent statewide poll showed far more dissatisfaction with Brownback and the ultraconservative-controlled Legislature than the Kansas Supreme Court,” the article concludes.

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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. Read more

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Opinion: Political Attacks on Kansas Courts to Continue

Following yesterday’s approval of a bill expanding the grounds for impeachment of Kansas Supreme Court Justices (see Gavel Grab), Ed Flentje, a professor emeritus at Wichita State University, explores the ongoing attempts by Governor Sam Brownback and Republican lawmakers to take political control of the Kansas Supreme Court in the Arkansas City Traveller.

According to Flentje, they have been brazen and overt in their efforts to “pack the court with partisan judges.” As evidence, he quotes Brownback:

“In 2012 Governor Sam Brownback badgered Tim Owens, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, with a clear message: ‘let us change the way we select judges so we can get judges who will vote the way we want them to.’” Read more

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Kansas Senate Committee Approves Judicial Impeachment Bill

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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.”

Read more

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