The ghost of Orval Faubus haunts Kansas.
You might recall how the former governor of Arkansas responded to a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court to desegregate all schools in America. In 1957, he called out the Arkansas National Guard to keep black children from entering a white school.
The arguments Faubus articulated then sound very familiar to what we are hearing in Kansas today.
“I was not elected governor of Arkansas to surrender all our rights as citizens to an all-powerful federal autocracy,” he said. “It is my responsibility to defend the constitutional rights of the people of Arkansas.”
He attacked the courts as being “opposed to the majority will of the people of Arkansas.”
Eventually, President Dwight Eisenhower sent in federal troops to enforce the law. The Arkansas schools were desegregated by force.
Faubus would feel right at home in Kansas today.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and the staunchly conservative Legislature are facing off against the courts, whose pronouncements they do not like one bit.
One pertains to school funding. The other, same-sex marriage.
It is almost a foregone conclusion that the Kansas Supreme Court will find that the Legislature is under-funding schools and also is not providing for an equitable education across the state. Some think the high court may require the Legislature to spend up to $500 million more to meet the constitutional requirements of a suitable education.
The Legislature and governor have let it be known that they feel the state’s sovereignty is being trampled on.
In fact, like Faubus, some leaders in the Legislature say they may refuse to honor the decision, because it is up to them to determine how state money is spent.
There could very well be a constitutional crisis in Kansas, as the executive and legislative branches of government face off against the judicial branch.
How that would be resolved, no one knows. The Kansas Supreme Court does have the authority to close all public schools in Kansas, and they threatened a decade ago to do just that the last time the Kansas Supreme Court and Legislature were at loggerheads over school funding. The Legislature blinked and did, in fact, raise school funding by hundreds of millions of dollars.
But today’s Legislature and today’s governor are far more conservative. This time, they may not blink. We shall see how that unfolds, but defying the Kansas Supreme Court does not seem like a winnable position.
Same-sex marriage is also sticking in the throats of the governor and the Legislature.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, and it is now the law of the land.
Not so fast.
Brownback may be leading an end-run around the decision.
Like Faubus, Brownback is not willing to accept the ruling, at least not without a fight.
The governor has issued an executive order that prevents state departments and other entities from taking action against clergy and religious organizations that refuse to carry out or recognize same-sex marriages.
As Brownback puts it, they should not be forced to participate in activities that “violate their sincerely and deeply held beliefs.”
President Barack Obama might not choose to send in federal troops to enforce the law of the land. But the Department of Justice could become heavily involved in forcing Kansas to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision — with no strings attached.
Faubus was dead wrong when he erroneously thought he could trump the courts.
The Kansas governor and Legislature will find out the same, if they choose to buck the court decisions they do not like and stand on the wrong side of history and justice.
To reach Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.