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Strange days: Brownback and the courts

Published on -2/12/2013, 10:48 AM

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We gotta think only a politician would tell a judge, "Boy, that black robe really makes you look heavy."

No, Gov. Sam Brownback didn't actually say that, but he came close, and now he needs a favor from those folks whose work clothes are black robes.

Here's the situation: First, the governor wants to get rid of the Supreme Court Nominating Commission, which forwards to governors the names of candidates for the Kansas Supreme Court. That's a little like questioning the parentage of a purebred dog. Not quite calling the court a panel of mongrels, but it creates, well, let's call it friction.

Then, conservatives in the Legislature joined the governor in proposing a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the Kansas Supreme Court from ordering the state to pay to school districts the money for K-12 education the court ordered the state to pay several years ago -- and didn't.

And now after a three-judge panel in Shawnee County decided last month the state is not spending the money on K-12 education the Supreme Court ordered back in 2005, the governor wants the court to order arbitration between the state and the schools over spending. That would be essentially schools giving away some of the money the Supreme Court ordered them paid.

Hmm ...

Well, this arbitration is a relatively novel idea, with the schools and the state -- though nobody's quite sure who represents the state--trying to get a deal. Does the governor, or more specifically, the executive branch of government negotiate? Or does the Legislature, which appropriates money, get a seat at the table?

And if the state and the school districts reach a deal, does this whole school finance lawsuit just go away? Do both parties tell the Supreme Court "never mind, just go to lunch, we've solved this."

Or, is this arbitration business just to burn up time until maybe after the Legislature is out of session when it can't appropriate money? Or, after burning up some time, then does the Supreme Court actually hear the appeal and make a decision next year? An election year when lawmakers and the governor can say those boys and girls on the Supreme Court are the ones raising your taxes? Think that might get some votes to change the Constitution?

This is playing out strangely. Especially because the Legislature has missed the April city election ballot on which it might have -- strategically -- put that issue prohibiting the court from ordering the Legislature to spend money on K-12 education. Anyone else imagine those TV ads and mailers with black-robed judges putting their hands in your pockets to pull out money?

Or is all this (roll out your own conspiracy theories here) just a rather elaborate effort to change the perception of Kansans for their court; to undermine the respect of Kansans for the court, to make it appear less impartial, less nonpartisan -- just another self-serving political arm of government?

And, school finance aside, what does that hold for the state?

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report.

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