We’ve all done something that in hindsight was probably ill-advised — say wearing a plaid suit to the annual convention of actuaries or feeding the geese in Johnson County.
There are simple fixes for those errors in judgment.
But when the Legislature makes one of those ill-advised decisions, and the governor agrees to it, it winds up in the Kansas Statutes Annotated and becomes the law of the land.
This “nonseverability” clause the Legislature thought up a few years ago is one of those probably ill-advised decisions that just won’t go away.
That clause, recall, was added to the provisions of the bill that finances the state’s judiciary — that third independent branch of government — and it essentially said if for some reason lawmakers’ meddling in the selection of the chief judges of the state’s 31 judicial districts is determined to be unconstitutional, then there is no money to pay the judges and their staffs.
That sounds like a locker room scrap, but essentially laying off the judicial branch of government means things don’t happen that affect us. Without a court, you can’t send a robber or drunk driver to prison. You can’t get that divorce, or prosecute that roofer when rain water still drips onto the dining room table.
A lot happens — and doesn’t happen — when the judicial branch of government is shut down.
So, last week Attorney General Derek Schmidt, whose office lost the case defending the law that changes who selects the chief judges of the state’s judicial districts, triggered the “nonseverability” clause. Schmidt is appealing the decision, and at some point, someone decides whether the Legislature is meddling where it has no authority to meddle. If that decision is made, then there goes the judicial budget. Those judges and clerks are essentially laid off.
Now, even — and you hate to have to use the word “even” when referring to the popularly elected chief lawyer for the state — Schmidt sees that as a problem.
What does the state’s (he represented the Legislature and governor in the scrap) lawyer suggest after he lost the case in Shawnee County District Court and appealed that decision to the Kansas Supreme Court? He suggests the high court not hear the case. After all, he says, it’s going to look pretty self-serving if Supreme Court justices rule on a case that ultimately could determine whether those jurists can make their car payments and afford premium channels on their cable TV contracts.
And, he notes, “Even an appearance of partiality would not serve the interest of justice in a case of this importance.” He doesn’t mention that next fall five of the seven members of the Kansas Supreme Court stand for retention elections where they could be booted off the bench, but he probably had other things on his mind.
Now let’s see, if the Supreme Court doesn’t hear Schmidt’s appeal of the decision which lets the high court appoint chief judges that county court decision apparently means the judicial budget is nixed. A stay of the local decision is in effect, and there are no time clocks on those stays.
The Supreme Court refers to a “doctrine of necessity” when a case just has to be decided, even though there might be some conflicts of interest apparent.
So it appears to come back to the Legislature, which thought up the new chief judge appointment system and made it nonseverable from the court budget.
Looks like the simple solution, if anything is simple anymore, is for the Legislature to repeal either that judicial appointment provision, or maybe the nonseverability clause. Someone has to blink; we just don’t know who or when.
But — here’s a metaphor you hate to use — at some point in the evening, you have to let the dog out.
Syndicated by Hawver News Co.
of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report.