TOPEKA – (September 22, 2015) – A state district court judge today ordered that a provision the Legislature included in the state courts’ budget not be enforced until next year’s legislative session is well underway, avoiding any risk of a judicial funding crisis before the Legislature and the Judiciary have another chance to resolve the funding dispute, Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced.
“Today’s district court’s order prevents any risk of judicial shutdown until at least next spring when the Legislature is back in session and can either change the law or quickly respond to any court ruling,” said Schmidt, who last week called for restraint by all parties involved in this dispute between the Legislature and the Judiciary. “This delay should eliminate talk of any ‘constitutional crisis,’ except perhaps among outside groups itching for a fight, and will give every Kansan involved an opportunity to thoughtfully reassess the situation.”
Earlier this year, the Legislature inserted a so-called “nonseverability clause” in the judicial budget, linking funds appropriated for the Judiciary to the preservation of reforms that allow local judges in each judicial district to select their own chief judge rather than the Supreme Court appointing the chief judges statewide. Those reforms have been ruled unconstitutional by a state district court judge in Topeka, but he has put his ruling on hold while the State appeals.
In an effort to avoid a shutdown of the State’s court system, Schmidt today filed a new lawsuit in Neosho County District Court. If the “nonseverability clause” were triggered this fall, the result would be that all funding for the State’s court system would be cut off, and because the Legislature is not currently in session to respond immediately, the court system statewide would shut down. In turn, that sort of judicial shutdown would violate a provision in the Kansas Constitution that prohibits the reduction of judges’ salaries in most circumstances and also would impermissibly interfere with the ability of the justice system to function as Kansans expect.
“My understanding from discussions with key members of the Legislature is that in the event the court-reform statute were invalidated, they intended to revisit judicial funding, not eliminate it,” Schmidt said. “This delay ensures the Legislature will have that opportunity next spring and will let the courts continue to function as usual until then.”
Schmidt today asked the court to prohibit enforcement of the “nonseverabililty clause” until March 15, 2016 – after the 2016 legislative session has convened – giving the Legislature and the Judiciary the opportunity to resolve their dispute during next year’s budget deliberations. District Judge Daryl D. Ahlquist entered that injunction earlier today.
A copy of the injunction, along with filings in the case, is available at http://1.usa.gov/1MolnCw .
Earlier this month, four state district court judges, including three chief judges, filed a lawsuit in Topeka asking that the nonseverability clause be declared unconstitutional. Like Schmidt’s lawsuit, the judges seek a determination that reducing judicial salaries is unconstitutional, but unlike the attorney general they also seek much broader declarations about the scope of judicial power and the limits of legislative authority.
“In my view, expansive declarations about judicial and legislative power could needlessly and unwisely fan the flames of conflict between the Legislature and the Judiciary and should be avoided, particularly at this time when passions are running high,” Schmidt said. “So I have worked to achieve the critical result – immediately avoiding a judicial funding crisis – on a narrower constitutional basis that protects all interests and gives time for the branches of government to resolve their dispute without unnecessary confrontation. I am hopeful this will calm the situation.”