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Archive for Sunday, June 19, 2005

Court’s ‘activist’ label unfair, some argue

June 19, 2005

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— Listening to some legislators describe the Kansas Supreme Court, you'd expect to see the justices partying at the Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival.

Some conservatives upset over the court's decision to order the Legislature to increase school funding by $285 million by July 1, have blasted the court as being on a wild, legalistic joyride.

"This is not a case of judicial activism. This is a case of judges out of control," state Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, has said.

And on Saturday at a rally at the Capitol, several legislators verbally flogged the court, and some said they were duty-bound to ignore the court order on school finance.

Members of the court will not comment on pending litigation, the court's spokesman Ron Keefover said, but others are starting to defend the court.


Republicans, from left, Charlene Bredemeier, Charlotte O'Hara, Wally Bredemeier and Mary Frey show support during a rally Saturday criticizing the state Supreme Court's involvement in the school finance bill during a rally at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

Republicans, from left, Charlene Bredemeier, Charlotte O'Hara, Wally Bredemeier and Mary Frey show support during a rally Saturday criticizing the state Supreme Court's involvement in the school finance bill during a rally at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

Six on defense

Retired state Supreme Court Justice Fred Six, of Lawrence, denounced the criticism of the court.

Six said talk of defying the court was bad for the state. The court did a good job on the school finance lawsuit, he said, and the Legislature needs to obey the order.

"Some have determined it is politically astute to lambaste the court. I don't think that is productive for the state of Kansas," said Six, who retired from the court in 2003.

He said the court had acted reasonably and thoughtfully on the lawsuit that was filed by students in districts who said education funding was unconstitutionally inadequate for all schools and the gap between rich and poor districts was unfair to the point of being unconstitutional.

"The Legislature has created a problem, recognized the problem and then played hooky," Six said. The court, he said, has stepped in with a temporary remedy and deferred to the Legislature to come up with a permanent fix.

Authority questioned

Some lawmakers have said even though the court has a duty to interpret whether state laws, such as school finance, are constitutional, the court doesn't have the authority to order a remedy that includes a specific appropriation of taxpayer funds. Only the Legislature can appropriate funds under the state constitution, they say.

But others disagree, noting the state Supreme Court has often ruled in cases, many of them tax disputes, that have resulted in the Legislature having to appropriate more dollars to cover refunds.

Rich Hayse, president of the Kansas Bar Assn., said the public has been misinformed about the school finance case.

He said the amount of money that the court said was necessary for schools was based on the Legislature's own consultants' study and was introduced as evidence during the trial over the dispute.

He said legislators who said they would disobey the ruling was a step down the slippery slope to anarchy.

"If we are not bound to obey a court decision with which we disagree, why should citizens obey any law or governmental authority that displeases us?" he said.

The court has a mix

So who are these justices on the state Supreme Court?

The state Supreme Court is currently made up of six justices - there is a vacancy on the court left by Robert Gernon, who died earlier this year.

The justices all have lengthy resumes of legal achievements, community work and family life, and were all born in Kansas.

"The members of the court - I don't know how you could have designed a better balance," Six said.

Three members of the court are women, three are men; three members were appointed by Republican governors, three were appointed by Democrats; and three are veterans on the court, while three are relative newcomers.

They also have been closely divided on several important cases before them, but on the school finance case, they were unanimous - declaring the funding system unconstitutional and ordering a remedy.

Cries that the justices represent an activist court, one wanting to legislate from the bench, simply aren't true, Six said.

"They didn't go out and fetch this case," he said of the school finance dispute. "The case came to them," he said.

Kansas Supreme Court justices

Kay McFarland, 69, born in Topeka, has been on the court since 1977, becoming chief justice in '95. She is a graduate of Washburn University School of Law. She is the first woman to be appointed to the court and was selected by Gov. Robert Bennett, a Republican.

Donald Allegrucci, 68, born in Pittsburg, has been on the court since 1986, and graduated from the Washburn University School of Law. He was appointed to the position by Gov. John Carlin, a Democrat.

Robert Davis, 65, born in Topeka, has been on the court since 1993, and graduated from Georgetown University School of Law. He was appointed by Gov. Joan Finney, a Democrat.

Lawton Nuss, 52, born in Salina, has been on the court since 2002, and graduated from Kansas University School of Law. Appointed by Gov. Bill Graves, a Republican.

Marla Luckert, 49, born in Goodland, has been on the court since 2003, and graduated from Washburn School of Law. Appointed by Graves.

Carol Beier, 46, born in Kansas City, Kan., has been on the court since 2003, and graduated from Kansas University School of Law. Appointed by Sebelius, a Democrat.

Comments

blakus 9 years, 6 months ago

The legislature tries to shift the attention to the Supreme Court so they do not look bad. The courts are acting in the interest of the people, which I am grateful for. The legislature should do the same, but it is obvious that they are only listening to a few voices, if that at all.

Horace 9 years, 6 months ago

Balance.

Hmm. Topeka, Topeka, Salina, Pittsburgh, KCK and Goodland.

Where's the voice of JoCo, doesn't their voice factor into this balance? Or is JoCo only good for paying the bills?

usaschools 9 years, 6 months ago

If the legislature fails to fulfill their constitutional obligations and the ownly remedies available involve the expenditure of funds, then the court has every right to exercise that remedy. The legislature has commissioned THREE studies of the cost of providing an adequate education to students in Kansas. The first two essentially validated each other, saying that more money was needed (with very similar cost figures). So, the Legislature commissioned the Augenblick and Myers study. The Kansas Legislature (Republican controlled) created the conditions for this study! Again, the study found that more money was needed for our schools.

The legislature is not interested in helping our children. That is just a campaign slogan to them. They are interested in continuing their relatively high-paying jobs, retaining their power, and playing politics with the lives of our children.

Support our schools!

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