Early signs are that Kansas legislators will move quickly to resolve a potential crisis over the budget for the state’s judicial branch — and that’s good news for the state.
On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee approved identical bills to restore the judicial budget. The bills toss out a 2015 law that included a “nonseverability clause” tying judicial funding to a 2014 law changing the way chief judges are appointed in the state’s 31 judicial districts. The clause required that the entire law, which included funding of the judicial branch, would be thrown out if any part of the law was found to be invalid. A subsequent court ruling that the change in chief judges’ appointments was unconstitutional had put the judicial budget in jeopardy.
Republican lawmakers reportedly said Thursday they didn’t want to close the courts. That’s good, but it raises the question of why they inserted the nonseverability clause in the first place — especially when a lawsuit contesting the chief judge selection change already had been filed.
It seemed they were trying to pick a fight with the court system, but perhaps they’ve had a change of heart. For whatever reason, it’s good to see legislators taking quick and straightforward action to resolve the issue. Hopefully, the bills will move smoothly through the legislative process without any tinkering or controversy.
Even with the budgets restored, more controversy likely is ahead for the state’s judiciary, thanks to Gov. Sam Brownback’s renewed call for amending the Kansas Constitution to change the way justices on the Kansas Supreme Court are selected. Despite his repeated assertion that our system is out of step with the rest of the nation, Kansas is one of 24 states that uses a merit system with a nominating commission to select supreme court justices. Rather than try to address any concerns about the makeup of the Kansas commission, Brownback continues to advocate throwing out the merit system in favor of a more political system in which the governor appoints justices with Senate confirmation.
A proposed constitutional amendment to change the selection process failed to make it through the Legislature last year and legislators may not want to tackle this issue again in an election year. That, like quick action to restore the judicial budgets, would be a smart and practical choice.