Supreme Court to consider part of funeral picketing law

? An unusual provision of the state’s law against funeral picketing will be considered Dec. 6 by the Kansas Supreme Court.

In an order Wednesday, Chief Justice Kay McFarland said the seven-member court will consider two questions, both of which deal with what’s known as a “trigger.” That provision says the law won’t be enforced until it is declared constitutional by the state or federal courts.

The court will consider whether that trigger itself is constitutional, McFarland said in the order. The second question is whether the court must strike down the entire funeral picketing law if the trigger isn’t valid.

The Supreme Court doesn’t plan to consider the issue legislators want resolved: whether the law violates picketers’ rights to free speech or to freely practice their religion. The measure is a response to demonstrations at soldiers’ funerals by the Rev. Fred Phelps and his Topeka church, Westboro Baptist.

The trigger created a problem for Attorney General Paul Morrison by delaying enforcement of the law. Courts typically don’t rule on whether a law is constitutional until there’s a legal controversy – and a controversy can’t arise if the state doesn’t enforce the new statute.

Morrison attacked the trigger in his lawsuit but also asked the court to uphold the entire law. The Supreme Court scheduled its Dec. 6 hearing after Morrison and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who was named as defendant in lawsuit, filed motions narrowing the issues before the court to just the trigger.

The law, enacted this year, says protesters can’t be within 150 feet of a funeral one hour before, during or two hours after a service ends. Violators face up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail.

It also makes it unlawful to obstruct any public street or sidewalk and allows family members to sue if they feel protesters defamed the deceased – an exception to the general rule of law that one cannot libel or slander the dead.