Are the Kansas Supreme Court justices — except for the conservative appointed by Gov. Sam Brownback — villains or heroes?
A million dollars — or even more — could be spent by conservative groups, both inside and outside the state, attacking four of the justices up for retention in November.
We will never know the total amount spent or where the money came from because no disclosure is required in retention campaigns nor are there any limits on campaign expenditures.
It drives conservatives crazy that all but one of the justices were appointed either by former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius or moderate Republican Gov. Bill Graves.
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This “liberal” court has caused them such consternation that they have convinced themselves that a majority of Kansas voters will agree to get rid of their nemeses.
Conservatives have a list of grievances, including rulings on abortion laws and capital punishment, but it is the high court’s mandate that the Legislature fund schools equitably that has really lit the fires.
Furthermore, it is anticipated the Supreme Court will rule again on school finance, next time declaring the entire school funding in Kansas to be grossly inadequate.
The court may demand that hundreds of millions of dollars more be spent or else schools will be closed until full funding has been achieved to provide a “suitable” education, as the Constitution requires.
Conservatives call that “legislating from the bench.” They do not believe the court has the authority to override spending decisions made by the Legislature.
Can that argument be sold to a majority of Kansas voters in November to unseat the four targeted justices up for retention? The single Brownback appointee, Caleb Stegall, who is up for retention, will somehow be differentiated from the others during the ouster campaign.
No matter how much is spent in a campaign against the targeted justices, it almost certainly will fail.
That takes into consideration that the justices will not actively campaign for their seats. Others will have to do that for them.
In the 60 years since the current selection process has been in force in Kansas, never has a Supreme Court justice failed to be retained.
Court critics have convinced themselves this time will be different.
Let’s consider who Kansans consider the good guys and the bad guys. In a recent independent statewide poll, the Kansas Supreme Court was found to be the most popular government institution in Kansas. The justices got good overall marks — 45 percent of Kansans are very or somewhat satisfied with the high court. A third are neutral.
But compared with the other branches of government, the Supreme Court looks wildly popular.
Only 25 percent of Kansans are satisfied with the Legislature. And an abysmal 21 percent approve of the governor.
But here’s the clincher in the poll:
An astounding 71 percent of Kansans think school funding should be increased!
That certainly will be the message of the pro-justices campaign, already organized by citizens on behalf of the justices. You can almost hear their message: “Your Supreme Court is saving our schools. Tell them yes, they are doing the right thing!”
The governor and extreme conservatives in the Legislature will not stop their attack on the judiciary, even if the justices are retained. They will continue to try to change how justices are selected, and they will also try to legislate limits on what the court can decide. So far, those efforts have gone nowhere.
Kansans like an independent judiciary that is not at the mercy of whims. That will be the clear message in November.
Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist: firstname.lastname@example.org.