Opinion

Opinion

Editorial: Power grab

Legislators shouldn’t be allowed to punish state courts for doing their constitutional duty.

Lawrence Journal-World opinion section

Lawrence Journal-World opinion section

March 10, 2016

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Proposed legislation that would vastly expand the legal grounds for impeaching judges in Kansas is nothing short of an attack on the balance of powers in state government.

SB 439 lists impeachable offenses in such a vague and inclusive way that state legislators would have almost unlimited power to oust Kansas Supreme Court justices who issue rulings with which they disagree and keep replacing justices until they get a court that suits their political agenda.

The impeachment measure scheduled to be considered today by the Senate Judiciary Committee is popular with legislators who are angry with the Kansas Supreme Court because of its rulings on school finance and other matters. One of the bill’s sponsors, Republican Sen. Mitch Holmes, said this week, “I believe the court has a tremendous problem with overreach.” Perhaps the senator doesn’t recognize that his bill represents legislative overreach that threatens the existence of an independent judiciary in the state of Kansas.

The Kansas Constitution provides for the removal of state officials from office if they are impeached and convicted of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The bill being considered lists treason, bribery and “indictable criminal offenses,” among its grounds for impeachment of members of the Kansas Supreme Court and appointed district judges, but that is just the beginning of the list. Also included are such arbitrary judgments as “exhibiting personal misbehavior or misconduct” or “exhibiting discourteous conduct toward litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers or others” in their official business. One basis for impeachment that has drawn particular attention is “attempting to usurp the power of the legislative or executive branch of government.”

As a reminder, the power to impeach and remove state officials from office lies entirely with the Legislature. According to the constitution, the House has “the sole power to impeach.” The Senate tries all impeachment cases and can remove someone from office with a two-thirds majority vote. However unlikely, it certainly would be possible for legislators to use the vague proposed impeachment standards to remove justices based on an arbitrary determination that they have been “discourteous” or engaged in “personal misbehavior.”

Is that what the Legislature has in mind? Sen. Dennis Pyle, another sponsor of the bill, noted this week that impeachment has been “a little-used tool” to challenge judicial rulings. “Maybe it needs to be oiled up a little bit or sharpened a little bit,” he said.

Allowing the Legislature to exert that kind of control over the state’s top court represents a total breakdown in the separation of powers that is at the heart of the democratic system. The state’s courts don’t pose their own challenges to the legislative and executive branches; they respond to the concerns raised by Kansas residents. It’s the courts’ duty to give those residents an avenue to challenge the decisions of the other two branches. If the Legislature is allowed to stack the Supreme Court with supportive justices, the power of the judiciary to provide a meaningful balance of power will be lost.

The Kansas Supreme Court is charged with interpreting the laws of Kansas. If legislators disagree with the court’s interpretation, they can change the laws, but they shouldn’t be allowed to punish or undermine the powers of the court for simply doing its job.

Comments

Darrell Lea 1 year, 3 months ago

The next time LJ World runs an editorial like this, would you please attach to it a list of the Republican legislators, etc., that the newspaper endorsed prior to their election? Always be careful what you wish for.

Carol Bowen 1 year, 3 months ago

Let's think forward rather than backward. Give people a chance to rethink who and what they support. When someone is backed into a corner, they become defensive.

Cindy Wallace 1 year, 3 months ago

They had that chance in Brownbacks first term....and the people took chances with the life and liberty of our children and families that are irreparable, should it be allowed to continue. Those of us who didn't vote for these idiots the second time around ARE forward thinkers.

Michael Kort 1 year, 3 months ago

This is an attack on our American System of Government, which embodies the Separation of Powers ( The Legislative, Executive & Court System ) at its' very heart in our United States of America Constitution .

I can only describe the authors of this Ks legislative nonsense "as having missed CIVICS CLASSES in high school" or "as having bellied up, to the misguided political KOCH brothers' feeding trough" .

The Separation of Powers in our American Government, are not a new thing that Obama or the Democratic Party invented .

The Separation of Powers has been in our American Constitution ever since the days of George Washington, who ( for those in our Legislature who ditched history and civics ) was the very first President of the United States of America .

No, George Washington wasn't a Communist;......nor did George Washington have any problems with a United States of America, that operated by the rule of the Constitutional Law of Separation of Powers .

It ain't broke........don't fix it.......and don't believe the lie, that the only way for our country to survive, is to invent a strong man dictatorship to run it ! ( spread by ingrate multi-billionaires and their lobbying groups, who fail to appreciate what this country has done for them, financially )

The USA has been around since 1776 ( 240 years ) because of our successful constitutional form of government .

How long did dictators Hitler, Mousaline or their governments last ???

Melinda Henderson 1 year, 3 months ago

After yesterday's legislative session, the paper should be good for "power grab" editorials for at least a week.

Larry Dysart 1 year, 3 months ago

Clearly those attacking the Legislature have never had the "pleasure" of being involved in the co-called "JUSTICE" system. When lawyers, cops, DAs and Judges talk about JUSTICE--thats what they mean--JUST US

The courts are so insulated from reality that it has become impossible to wring one ounce of "JUSTICE" out of them. Judges are lazy, ignorant, hateful and in most cases magalmaniacal--they want deference and little else.

In truth this move does not go far enough Kansas needs a new Constitution to make the courts serve the PEOPLE not the other way round

Jerry Snider 1 year, 3 months ago

Has any Kansan ever given thought to their property values when the school system is downgraded?

Patrick Pritchard 1 year, 3 months ago

Simply put what this piece of legislation does is to violate the Kansas Constitution which provides for three distinct branches of government. It infringes upon the powers granted to the courts to rule on the constitutionality of the laws passed by the legislature and approved by the Governor. Any attempt to intimidate judges from carrying out their constitutional duties is a violation of the Kansas Constitution period. This legislation is an effort to intimidate judges.

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