While many an observer of the Kansas Legislature — ourselves included — recognize that body could benefit from an economics course or two, it now appears any recommended remedial curriculum should include a basic law course as well.
Aside from a primer on why we have separation of powers, too many lawmakers need a better grasp not only on what is contained in the Kansas Constitution, but what the words mean. It is obvious by the language in Senate Substitute for House Bill 2005 that lawmakers either aren’t aware or simply don’t care what the state’s guiding document has to offer. Budget negotiators from both chambers are attempting to tie funding of the entire judicial branch to having the courts deliver a favorable ruling on a bad law enacted last year.
On the off chance legislators haven’t read the Kansas Constitution lately, we would offer a reminder of what it contains.
For starters, Section 4 of Article 11 demands: “The legislature shall provide, at each regular session, for raising sufficient revenue to defray the current expenses of the state for two years.” A simple reading would suggest the legislative branch has no alternative but to fully fund the judicial branch — with no strings attached.
Section 1 of Article 3 states: “The supreme court shall have general administrative authority over all courts in this state.” Another no-strings-attached recognition that lawmakers can’t impose their will on the judiciary.
Is the judiciary branch necessary? Looking to the Kansas Bill of Rights, No. 10 calls for “a speedy public trial by an impartial jury” while No. 18 guarantees “justice administered without delay.” No. 5 reads: “The right of trial by jury shall be inviolate.” Simply translated, this means the courts determine whether a prisoner’s detention is valid. “Inviolate” demands this right is not to be diminished. In fact, the majority of Kansas’ 20 articulated rights require a functional judiciary to ensure the rights are being upheld.
We don’t believe the Constitution can be read any other way. Only the judiciary is empowered to ensure the citizens’ rights are upheld, and only the judiciary is capable of determining whether laws passed by the Legislature are valid by that same Constitution.
So why would lawmakers threaten to cut off all funding if a Shawnee County District Court strikes down last year’s law that says chief judges in district courts need to be elected by other judges instead of being appointed by the Supreme Court?
We would suggest it’s because these lawmakers believe themselves above the law, beyond the limits of the Kansas Constitution, and accountable to nobody save the governor and powerful, rich outside interest groups.
We also would suggest these lawmakers are attempting to hasten the arrival of the inevitable constitutional crisis. When the court demands the legislative branch to restore suitable and equitable funding to public schools, we have no doubt this Legislature will refuse.
Threatening the judiciary with loss of funding simply exacerbates an already hostile environment.
The mean-spirited chaos passing for the majority of today’s Kansas Legislature would merely be lamentable if they understood and abided by the state Constitution. The deliberate thumbing of their noses not only should be unacceptable to the public, but punishable under the law.
Ignorance of the law rarely works as an excuse for common citizens. We’ll see how it works with our elected officials.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry
Editorial by Patrick Lowry