Steve Rose

Gov. Sam Brownback’s war on the courts will be historic

At a news conference March 7, 2014, in Topeka, Gov. Sam Brownback responded to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that the state’s public school funding levels are unconstitutional.
At a news conference March 7, 2014, in Topeka, Gov. Sam Brownback responded to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that the state’s public school funding levels are unconstitutional. The Associated Press/Lawrence Journal-World

My friend Mike Shanin, who moderates the KCPT program “Ruckus,” said on air that my recent contention that “Orval Faubus would feel at home in Kansas” was outrageous.

Not so, Mike.

Faubus and his successor ilk are alive and well in Kansas.

The former governor of Arkansas defied the U.S. Supreme Court over the issue of integrating schools, contending his state had the power to ignore federal law. He declared that Arkansas schools would not be integrated, no matter what the court had to say.

Ultimately, he lost when President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in federal troops to enforce the law.

Faubus only defied one court action. In Kansas today, there are four separate threats to the courts by politicians in the Legislature and by the governor. Each threat undermines Kansas constitutional history and its outline of three co-equal branches of government.

The first has to do with gay marriage, and the governor’s executive order to exempt religious organizations and clergy. Under the governor’s order, a religious organization could, for example, refuse to allow adoption of a child to a gay couple because of its “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”

The U.S. Supreme Court could hold the state of Kansas in contempt, setting up a clash of historic proportions.

Yet, gay marriage is only the tip of the court-defiance iceberg.

Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick has said that if the Kansas Supreme Court concludes a large increase in funding for schools is necessary to provide a suitable education, “I don’t see the Legislature, with this makeup, going along with what the court has to say.”

Oh, really?

Since when did we get to pick and choose which court orders to obey? This would trigger a grave constitutional crisis with no certain outcome.

On another front in the education battle, a three-judge panel has found that block grants for funding public schools in Kansas are unconstitutional, because the grants do not fund public schools adequately and do not address inequality in school funding across the state.

That decision will ultimately wind its way to the Kansas Supreme Court.

What if the Supreme Court rules that, indeed, the block grants are unconstitutional?

The Legislature could declare, as some have intimated, that the control over the state budget — the power of the purse — belongs to the Legislature, and the courts have no right to interfere.

So get ready for another constitutional crisis and another “Faubus” action to ignore the courts.

Finally, yet another constitutional crisis may be on the horizon, and this one has nothing to do with gay marriage or education.

It has to do with how the chief judge of each of the 31 district courts is selected.

In the past, the Kansas Supreme Court has selected each chief judge. The Kansas Constitution says, “The Supreme Court shall have general administrative authority over all courts in this state.”

A 2014 bill passed by the Kansas Legislature and signed by the governor takes away that authority. It says the chief judges of the district courts should be selected by judges in that district, with no Supreme Court involvement.

A district judge has filed a lawsuit, challenging the law as unconstitutional.

In response to the lawsuit, and as a more direct threat to the courts, the most recent Legislature had this to say: If the law passed in 2014 changing the selection of chief judges is ever found to be unconstitutional, all funding for the judicial branch is immediately ended. No money for judges, clerks, computers or paper.

Talk about a crisis.

The conservative Legislature and governor are thumbing their noses at the courts, which they think are too liberal.

And they are thumbing their noses at Kansans who support an independent court system.

Politicians in Topeka also want to change the way the Kansas Supreme Court justices are selected to get a bench more to their political liking.

Orval Faubus was an amateur compared to the Kansas Legislature and governor, who are waging an all-out war against the courts.

To reach Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist, send email to srose@kc.rr.com.

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