The funding of Kansas courts appeared to be briefly in question this week, but Gov. Sam Brownback gave assurances Friday that the court system is fully functional.
On Wednesday, Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks struck down a 2014 law that transferred the power to appoint chief district judges from the Kansas Supreme Court to the judges in each of the state’s 31 judicial districts.
Lawmakers were so adamant about the change in the selection process for chief judges last session that they approved another measure: If the policy was ruled invalid, the judicial branch’s budget would be “null and void” through 2017.
At the request of Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Hendricks put his ruling on hold Thursday, which meant the court system’s funding wasn’t in jeopardy. Whether the 2014 law was unconstitutional interference will be hashed out in the appeals process.
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“We have a court system, and we’re going to have a court system,” Brownback said Friday at a news conference.
The change in the selection process and the measure to halt funding were decried as legislative interference and an attack on the judiciary. Lawmakers said their intent was to create more local control in the court system. Brownback has only one appointee, Caleb Stegall, on the seven-member Supreme Court.
On Friday, Brownback said that the measure to halt funding wasn’t unusual and that altering the selection process for chief judges wasn’t interference.
“It’s a legislative and executive function,” he said.
The Associated Press reported earlier this week that although the Kansas Supreme Court would arguably have a conflict of interest, it still could review a challenge to the 2014 law.
“When some similar situations have arisen around the country, not necessarily on court funding, courts have invoked what they call ‘the rule of necessity,’” Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said. “The alternative would be to move all those justices off the court and bring in seven strangers, and that just has not, over the course of many years, proven to be practical.”
Asked Friday about the Supreme Court’s status in eventually hearing the matter, Brownback said: “They will have to review their role in the process.”