by Peter Hardin December 23rd, 2015
In a nationally watched case, the Kansas Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down as a violation of separation-of-powers tenets a statute removing the court’s authority to appoint chief district judges.
“The language of our constitution and application of caselaw factors for analyzing issues in cases involving separation of powers leads us to an ultimate opinion that is consistent with the opinions of courts in other jurisdictions: the means of assigning positions responsible to the Supreme Court and charged with effectuating Supreme Court policy must be in the hands of the Supreme Court, not the legislature,” the court said, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal. “By enacting (the law) the legislature asserted significant control over a constitutionally established essential power of the Supreme Court.”
The case has attracted national attention in part because a separate law, also passed by the Republican-led legislature, was tied to the first one and has enormous implications. The other statute calls for defunding of the entire Kansas court system if the chief judge-selection provision is struck down by a court. The legislators’ attacks on state courts are part of a larger pattern that add up to a “Battle of the Branches” of government in Kansas, one law professor wrote recently.
In September, a district court judge ordered that the judiciary defunding law could not be enforced until mid-March, when legislators will be back at work (see Gavel Grab).
The Kansas City Star reported on Wednesday about the latest ruling, “Kansas Supreme Court rules against the Legislature in separation-of-powers case.” TheLawrence Journal-World said, “The Kansas court system may be closer to losing all of its funding after the state Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned a new law that changes the way chief judges in district courts are chosen.”
Kansas University law professor Rick Levy told the Lawrence newspaper, “It will take another act, or inaction by the Legislature, to up the ante, I think, before we’re really in a crisis situation. At this point, since the budget can still be fixed before the loss of funds really kicks in, there’s no crisis yet.”
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