Kansas Senate delays debate on judicial impeachment grounds

Justices take their seats to hear oral arguments in a judicial funding case before the Kansas Supreme Court in Topeka, Kan., Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015.

? The Kansas Senate postponed a debate Monday on a measure declaring that state Supreme Court justices can be impeached and removed from office for attempting to “usurp” the power of the Legislature and the executive branch of state government.

Senators stripped the proposed impeachment measure from a bill clarifying the Supreme Court’s authority to administer the judicial branch’s day-to-day operations. The Senate gave the narrower bill first-round approval on a voice vote, with a final vote Tuesday to determine whether it goes to the House.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s decision last week to add the proposed impeachment grounds to the bill came after the Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to rewrite a law that determines how more than $4 billion in state aid a year is distributed to Kansas’ 286 public school districts. Critics saw the move as an attack on the court system’s independence, though supporters of the proposal said they simply wanted to spell out what misconduct could get a justice removed from the bench.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King, an Independence Republican, promised the panel would have a hearing and vote on the proposal early next month.

Sen. Mitch Holmes, a St. John Republican, said the issue of addressing judicial misconduct has “just fallen by the wayside for generations.”

“It’s time that we, as an elective body, assert ourselves in certain circumstances,” he said.

The Washington-based advocacy group Justice at Stake also said the proposal is unconstitutional because it “greatly expands” the offenses that could lead to a justice’s impeachment.

The state constitution says justices can be impeached and removed for treason, bribery or other “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The House impeaches an official, and the Senate tries him or her, with a two-thirds vote required for conviction and removal.