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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Brownback’s Court ‘Reform’ Killed in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (CN) - With only one dissenting vote in both houses, the Kansas Legislature repealed Gov. Sam Brownback's attempt to kill funding for state courts unless they accede to his effort to gain more power over judges.

Barring an unexpected and fruitless veto from Brownback, Kansas courts will remain open.

"It's appalling the executive branch thought it was acceptable to tie court funding to a judicial outcome in the first place," said plaintiffs' attorney Matthew Menendez, with the Brennan Center for Justice. The plaintiffs were state judges.

It was the third bill in as many years that pitted state judges against the executive and legislative branches, with Brownback, a Republican, leading the failed attempt that many judges viewed as an attempt to intimidate them.

In 2014, an appropriations bill, HB 2338, restricted the power of the Kansas Supreme Court to appoint chief judges in state districts. In 2015, HB 2005 would have stripped court funding if any court struck down the earlier law.

The repeal ended those threats.

The Kansas Supreme Court struck down HB 2338 as unconstitutional in December.

Four district judges then sued the state over the defunding provision, saying it violated the Kansas Constitution by significantly interfering with the judicial branch's authority to hear and decide cases.

"This bill is critical for the people of Kansas. An independent, functioning judiciary is the cornerstone of democracy, and the defunding law needed to be remedied quickly," said Pedro Irigonegaray, the Topeka lawyer who represents the judges.

The House approved repeal by 119-0 vote. The Senate vote was 39-1.

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