Topeka 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.
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.
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.
More about school finance
- Webcast of live arguments before the Kansas Supreme Court (requires Windows Media Player)
- Brief of the Montoy suit (.pdf)
- Timeline of events in school finance lawsuit
- 6News video: School finance bill to face court
- Plaintiffs: School finance bill fails grade (06-13-06)
- State wants high court to dismiss school suit (06-02-06)
- Legislature approves school finance plan (05-10-06)
- Chat with Bob Corkins, Kansas Education Commissioner (02-02-06)
- House roll call on $148.4 million school finance plan (07-07-05)
- Supt. Weseman's contingency plan (07-06-05)
- More about school finance »
- Conference Committee on Senate Bill 549
- House bill info
- Senate bill info
- Kansas public schools cost study
- Kansas public schools cost study executive summary
- Public Education Finances 2004 (.pdf)
- Senate roll call on $148.4 million school finance plan
- Supreme Court's Show Cause Order (07-02-05)
- Supreme Court's Order Denying Extension (.pdf)
- Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 1603 (.pdf)
- Supplemental Note on Resolution No. 1603 (.pdf)
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.