Order for the court
Some truths of the unique experiment known collectively as these United States of America are not so self-evident. That is why they were made explicitly part of the U.S. Constitution and, in many cases, state constitutions as well.
For example, the Sixth Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees a "speedy and public trial."
In the Kansas Constitution, Article 3 includes: "The supreme court shall have general administrative authority over all courts in this state."
Why single out these two laws of the land in particular? It turns out there are legislators in Topeka who want to improve the former while ignoring the latter.
Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, is pushing Senate Bill 289 in an attempt to limit the amount of time courts have to deliver decisions. The freshman senator -- who also is an attorney, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and vice president of the Senate -- seeks time restrictions for district courts, the state court of appeals, and the Kansas Supreme Court.
"What we've seen in courts across the nation is there is a move to see that justice is carried out in a timely fashion," King said.
Without regard for whether we believe Kansas courts to be fast or slow, SB 289 strikes us as legislative over-reach. The separation of powers among the three co-equal branches of government is enshrined in both the federal and state constitutions.
Choosing to ignore the intentional walls for one purpose likely will open a floodgate of unintended consequences.
King and other conservatives might be emboldened by last year's legislation that successfully altered the way judges are appointed in Kansas. Either that or they're frustrated with how long the Supreme Court is taking to decide the ongoing school funding case.
SB 289 is a bad idea no matter the reason. The proposed rules for how the Supreme Court itself handles matters suggest giving justices 180 days to render decisions and then file them. If that doesn't happen, all the attorneys involved are to file a joint request asking for a decision to be reached "without further delay." The chief justice, who sits on the same court, will be sent a copy of the request.
Within 30 days of the request, the justices shall enter a decision or give written notice of when they might expect a decision. Again, the chief justice would be sent a copy.
If the court fails to do the preceding, all the involved attorneys will send a joint request to the chief justice asking for an intended decision date.
If the chief justice fails to produce that date, well, it is impossible to tell. The circular legislation only goes so far, and there are no penalties outlined for any missed step. It still could take years from argument to ruling -- and fit within the proposed guidelines.
The judicial branch already has standards in place to ensure speedy trials and timely decisions. Rather than potentially unconstitutional meddling, legislators instead should properly fund the courts to ensure they remain open. That likely would have greater effect.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry