HUTCHINSON -- State Sen. Mitch Holmes, R-St. John, has called for legislation to expand significantly the grounds for impeachment of Kansas Supreme Court justices.
The bill was introduced Tuesday through the Senate Committee on Judiciary. Staff initially called it the "mystery" bill, when The News asked who had requested the legislation. Subsequently, staff reported Holmes was behind the half-page-long bill.
Holmes, who owns an RV park and was first elected to the Legislature in 2004, does not sit on the Judiciary Committee. That committee's last meeting of this year was March 19. However, the Legislature operates on a two-year cycle. Bills introduced this year will remain alive in the Legislature in 2017.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and some Republican lawmakers have criticized the Supreme Court for its role in school finance fights. The Supreme Court has sided with plaintiffs in cases against the state challenging the Legislature's school funding decisions.
Fort Hays State University political science professor Chapman Rackaway said language in Holmes' bill seems to be "a very clear attempt to allow the legislators to impeach justices based on decisions like Gannon."
The still-pending Gannon v. State of Kansas, which includes Hutchinson USD 308 and Dodge City USD 443 as plaintiffs, already has caused the Supreme Court to order more funding for schools. Even more court-ordered funding could come from the Gannon case.
The governor appoints justices to the seven-member Kansas Supreme Court. Brownback has had one appointee. Four current justices were appointed by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, two by Republican Gov. Bill Graves.
Newly appointed justices come up for a retention vote after a year in office. Subsequently, justices are subject to a retention vote every six years.
No Supreme Court justice has ever lost a retention election.
While the Supreme Court justices would be subject to wider grounds for impeachment under this bill, other officers -- including legislators -- would remain under the current language of impeachable grounds: treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.
University of Kansas political science professor Burdett Loomis, who worked for the Sebelius administration, described the legislation as "a vindictive, small-minded, revenge-oriented bill that totally disrespects the separation of powers, which is a bedrock" of state government.
"This bill is representative of so much nasty, gotcha legislation that represents new highs in mean-spiritedness and new lows in reasonable, well-considered public policy," Loomis said in an email.
Rackaway said the most important words in Holmes' bill are "attempting to subvert fundamental laws and introduce arbitrary power, attempting to usurp the power of the legislative or executive branch of government."
That seems consistent with the Legislature's general belief that the judicial branch is legislating from the bench, according to Rackaway.