In the eyes of its harsh critics, the Kansas Supreme Court’s latest “sin” is ordering the Legislature to more fairly spend money to help educate children throughout the state.
That’s why you can expect everyone from Gov. Sam Brownback to ultra-conservative GOP lawmakers to self-promoting Secretary of State Kris Kobach to irrationally call for voters to kick four justices off the seven-member court this fall.
Hold on. Deep breath time.
In reality, the state Supreme Court is acting impartially and carefully on the complicated school funding issue — as Kansans expect and deserve.
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These aren’t “activist judges.” Instead, the justices are trying to uphold the state Constitution and its requirement that the Legislature “shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests” of the state.
Court opponents including Brownback whine that elected officials are supposed to make these decisions. Yes, that would work just fine — if the state were led by thoughtful lawmakers who hadn’t approved unfair income tax cuts that have created a self-inflicted budget crisis.
Instead, Kansas is led by ideologues like Brownback and his GOP puppets. They keep claiming the tax breaks will grow employment. Yet the state has gained exactly zero jobs over the last year, while other taxes have soared and school funding has been one hot mess.
Based on the actual job the court is doing — and it got the highest mark of approval of public institutions and elected officials in a recent poll — removing justices shouldn’t even be up for discussion. Yet the Legislature is trying to make it easier to impeach justices. Also:
▪ Supporters are putting together fundraising groups so they can counter negative ads they’re sure are coming from conservative organizations and anti-abortion groups. For instance, a new letter on behalf of (but not signed by) Justice Carol Beier argues that the court is the target of an “unprecedented politicized effort” regarding its school rulings.
▪ Democrats are gearing up to help retain the justices. Ryan Wright, executive director of the Kansas Values Institute, said Saturday, “With all due respect to officeholders in the audience, the retention of justices is the single-most important thing on the ballot for Democrats in Kansas.”
▪ Court critic Kobach, whose incompetence in prosecuting voter fraud has been on full public display, told a GOP group in February, “The Kansas Supreme Court has gone off the rails.” Oh, not the conservative on the court who’s also up for retention, mind you, just the four people he thinks are liberals.
The 2016 fall elections will be highly politicized. Voters will have to protect the Kansas Supreme Court from unfair attacks on its independence.