TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A lawsuit filed on behalf of a district court judge challenges a law passed last year that changed how chief judges in the state’s district courts are appointed.
The Brennan Center for Justice filed the lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of Kingman County District Judge Larry Solomon over a law that stripped the Kansas Supreme Court of its authority to select chief judges. The law gives that power to a vote of judges within the districts.
The lawsuit contends the new law violates a 1972 constitutional amendment passed by Kansas voters giving that authority to the state Supreme Court.
“In a nutshell, the harm is that the people of Kansas ratified an amendment to the Constitution that says the state judiciary would be administered by a unified judicial system,” said Matt Menendez, an attorney with the Brennan Center.
Menendez said some believe the law was retaliation for the state Supreme Court’s rulings that Kansas isn’t spending enough money on its public schools to provide a suitable education for every child.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about that,” Menendez told the Lawrence Journal-World (http://bit.ly/1CMtG6C ). “We’ve seen in the Kansas media, and from folks we’ve talked to in the state, that this was a form of pushing back against the court for the school finance case as well as some controversial death penalty decisions.”
But Republican Sen. Jeff King, from Independence, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, denied that suggestion.
“I can tell you unequivocally there was nothing retaliatory about the judicial bills we passed last year whatsoever,” King said. “That was articulated clearly and consistently throughout the debate, and when you look at the substance of the bills, clearly they were to address substantive reforms in the court system, not for any form of retaliation or reaction whatsoever to a court decision.”
This year, Kansas legislators are considering other proposals affecting the judiciary that even some supporters say are a reaction to Supreme Court decisions.
The House Judiciary Committee passed out two proposed constitutional amendments this week that have Supreme Court justices selected either through direct partisan elections or through appointments by the governor, subject to Senate confirmation.
Gov. Sam Brownback urged lawmakers to pass one of those approaches during his State of the State address in January, saying: “With the Court involving itself in so many public policy issues, it is time the selection process be more democratic.”
House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, has not announced when the full House will consider the resolutions.
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