TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas district court judge who is suing the state over last year’s judicial budget bill said he also is prepared to challenge the constitutionality of this year’s funding measure, which he claims threatens the state judiciary’s independence.
Attorneys for 30th Judicial District Chief Judge Larry T. Solomon filed a brief this week claiming that a “nonseverability” clause in this year’s legislation violates the separation of powers doctrine, the Lawrence Journal-World (https://bit.ly/1NYefNB ) reported.
Solomon, the current longest-serving chief judge on the Kansas bench, filed a lawsuit over a portion of last year’s judicial funding law that stripped the state Supreme Court of its authority to appoint chief judges in the local courts.
Partly in response to Solomon’s lawsuit, Kansas lawmakers this year passed a two-year funding bill and inserted a clause that says if the judge wins his case challenging the new selection process, all funding for the judicial branch for the next two years becomes “null and void.”
“This action by our Legislature and our governor strikes me as the actions of a tyrant who says either you do it my way or I’m going to wipe out the ability of our state to have a judicial branch of government,” said Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka attorney representing Solomon in the case in Shawnee County District Court.
Solomon’s attorneys called the nonseverability clause unprecedented and said it will be challenged if enacted.
“In the event that this Court finds that (the new selection process) is unconstitutional, we are prepared to immediately bring suit challenging the validity of (the) nonseverability provision and seeking to preliminarily enjoin its operation so as to preserve the judicial appropriations for 2016 and 2017 pending a final adjudication,” the brief stated.
Kansas voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1972 giving the state Supreme Court “general administrative authority over all courts in the state.”
Attorneys for the state have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing there has been no constitutional violation.
“The Supreme Court is given authority to administer the judicial branch, just as the Governor is given authority to administer the executive branch. But in both cases, the Legislature retains legislative power under Article II to govern that administration,” state Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office wrote in June in a brief arguing to dismiss the suit.
Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute based at the New York University School of Law, also is representing Solomon. Matt Menendez, a Brennan Center attorney assigned to the case, said the Solomon case was a big topic of discussion at a Washington, D.C., legal conference.
“Everybody is talking about Kansas,” he said. “People are terrified that this could happen in their own state. This is being seen as a template where state courts around the country could come under attack. Nobody has seen anything like it.”
Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, https://www.ljworld.com
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