Justice in the Balance

In March of 2012, at a private meeting with then State Senator Tim Owens, Governor Brownback is reported to have said, "Tim, why can’t you go along with us on this judicial selection issue and let us change the way we select judges so we can get judges who will vote the way we want them to?"

It really is as simple as that. Judges who will vote the way we want them to. Not judges who will follow the law. Not judges who will uphold the Kansas Constitution. Not judges who will make decisions independent of what politicians want. No. Judges who will vote the way we want them to.

Didn't we all learn in elementary school about checks and balances? About the three branches of government, and how they act to ensure we remain a strong democracy? Didn't Sam Brownback learn that, too? Jokes about the value of a Kansas education aside, it would seem that if he did learn that, he's ignoring it now.

Last year, Brownback and his allies in the Legislature successfully changed how lower court judges are chosen, turning from a time-tested method of peer review, to one of purely political appointment. This year, they attempted to do the same with the selection of Justices to the Supreme Court of Kansas, with a constitutional amendment that thankfully failed. Other attempts have been made to coerce ruling by holding court funding hostage, a gambit that failed when the Legislature lost its nerve. Similarly, attempts have been made to lower the mandatory retirement age of Justices, and to make judges electable in partisan contests. And still alive in the session this year is a bill to widen the reasons a Justice could be impeached from the Supreme Court, to include language such as "usurping the power of other branches of government." The irony of that last one is striking.

But why? What does Brownback hope to gain by usurping the power of the Courts?

Primarily, he hopes to remove the strongest objection to shutting down or privatizing public schools in Kansas. The courts have repeatedly prevented attempts to curtail funding. In addition, the authority of the State Board of Education, another panel the Governor has failed to overrun, is enshrined in the Kansas Constitution, and thus protected by the Courts.

But the Governor is not alone in his dislike of the current court system. Kansas for Life (KFL), one of Brownback's staunchest allies, has repeatedly said they will seek changes to a court system that has sided with individual rights over imposed morality. Several state legislators have championed the anti-choice cause as well, and seek the overthrow of the court system blocking them.

In the end, Kansas has a method of reviewing judges: retention elections.

When general election ballots are punched in November, five of the seven Kansas Supreme Court Justices will be on them, likely down at the bottom. They will not have Rs or Ds next to their names. They will stand for retention or dismissal. This process is meant as a way for the Kansas people to censure and remove the most egregious of justices, those that make decisions based on greed or personal privilege. They are not meant to indicate our displeasure with a ruling.

Come to our forum on April 21st, or watch it online, when our guests will discuss the Kansas Courts and the implications of the Governor's tactics.

And in November, vote, but until then, #domorethanvote

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