After being thwarted in their efforts to select state Supreme Court justices more to their liking, conservative Kansas lawmakers have come up with an outrageous plan to make it easier to impeach judges for doing their jobs.
This latest assault on the judiciary smacks of desperation. It reveals legislators’ contempt for the checks and balances essential to a functioning democracy and risks making state government even more dysfunctional.
Senate Bill 439, which is scheduled for a vote in committee this week, would expand the legal basis for impeaching state Supreme Court justices and some district judges.
One of those reasons: “Attempting to usurp the power of the legislative or executive branch of government.”
In other words, lawmakers want to impeach judges for not deciding cases in favor of the Legislature or governor.
The target is the Kansas Supreme Court, which in recent years has delivered rulings on school finance, abortion, criminal cases and political spats that have proven unpopular with conservative lawmakers.
“I believe the court has a tremendous problem with overreach,” GOP Sen. Mitch Holmes, a sponsor of the bill, told The Associated Press.
But the justices weren’t looking to pick fights. Citizens brought the fights to them in the form of lawsuits.
Local school boards filed the school finance cases that have offended conservative legislators. Abortion providers challenged state laws that they contend interfere with the constitutional rights of women to terminate a pregnancy. Criminal defendants challenged the process that led to their sentencings.
All were exercising their constitutional right to seek redress in court. Some of the lawsuits, such as those dealing with abortion, were in response to overreach on the part of the Legislature.
It is illogical and vindictive for lawmakers to propose getting rid of justices because they don’t like the way they decided those cases.
The Kansas Constitution currently allows the House to impeach state judges for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” It is questionable whether the Legislature even has authority to broaden the terms of impeachment.
Also, state judges who aren’t selected in partisan elections are subject to retention elections after every six-year term. Four Supreme Court justices face retention votes this November.
Senate Bill 439 would also allow the house to impeach judges for “exhibiting discourteous conduct toward litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers or others with whom the justice or judge deals in an official capacity.”
Some members of the Kansas House — who would be deciding what constitutes “discourteous conduct” by judges — have themselves embarrassed the Legislature with bigoted remarks and Facebook posts. Yet the proposed grounds for impeachment don’t apply to lawmakers or other public officials, only judges.
But this bill isn’t about fairness. It is about intimidating judges and diminishing the chances for Kansas citizens to successfully contest legislative actions in court.
Sponsors of Senate Bill 439 are seeking unchecked authority. Other lawmakers with a greater respect for our foundation of government should deny them this power grab.