Friday, September 09, 2016

Brownback & Kansas Republicans Target Judges

Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback
Over the past couple of years the troubling ongoing political saga of two-term Republican Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has offered remarkable insight into the radical transformation of the Republican party on the state level.

Aided by a conservative majority state legislature, he has tried to transform Kansas into a radical conservative utopia by slashing taxes on businesses and the state's wealthiest citizens.

The results have been disastrous.

The tax cuts that further enriched well-off Kansas citizens led to plunging revenues that defunded essential state government services including public schools, social services and road maintenance.

As you may recall, back in March Kansas State Senator Mitch Holmes authored Senate Bill 439 which would actually authorize state legislators to impeach State Supreme Court judges for striking down legislation that violates the state Constitution.

Previously the only grounds for impeaching a Kansas State Supreme Court judge were for offenses like "treason, bribery, or other high crimes misdemeanors", but state legislators trying to remove judges for essentially disagreeing with legislation that violates law reflects just how radical Republican Kansas politicians have become.

This unprecedented attack on the judiciary came in response to the State Supreme Court ruling that the drastic cuts in funding to the Kansas public school system (once considered among the nation's finest) passed by the Republican-majority state legislators with Brownback's blessing violated provisions of the state constitution that mandate adequate public education - and in true Republican fashion, also disproportionately targeted the state's poorest school districts for budget cuts.

Now, remarkably, Brownback and state legislators are going after the court again.

Today the editorial board of the New York Times published a scathing op-ed piece that calls out the Kansas legislature for attempting use the state's retention vote process in a blatantly opportunistic manner to try and oust the majority of the State Supreme Court.

As the Times op-ed observes; "Right-wing politicians who adhere to the fantasy that government is the problem, not the solution, are eager to politicize the courts."

Kansas State Supreme Court Justices
How are Kansas Republicans trying to do that?

In Kansas, the governor appoints state supreme court judges, but they then come up for a retention vote on the state ballot every six years.

As the Website  Ballotpedia notes, "Retention votes of state supreme court justices are usually among the least noted elections on the ballot. Each sitting justice is usually retained without fanfare."  

"Usually", but not this year.

The radically conservative Kansas state legislature is going all out to oust Chief Justice Lawton Nuss and Justices Marla Luckert, Carol Beier, Daniel Biles and Caleb Stegall.  

The legislature is doing it by, in part, drawing on untraceable money from out-of-state conservative groups (we see you Koch brothers) to partner with, and secretly fund, interest groups like Kansans For Justice to develop grass roots campaigns to persuade Kansas citizens to vote to remove the justices facing a retention vote this November 8th.

Essentially, these groups are trying to use their disagreement with between six and ten of the thousands of decisions the Kansas State Supreme Court has ruled on to vote them out.

But it's really a carefully calculated Republican effort to circumvent the basic checks and balances embedded in the American political system to stack the Kansas State Supreme Court with conservative appointees of Governor Sam Brownback who would be less likely to overrule the kind of radically conservative legislation he and the Republican legislators have tried to unleash in Kansas.      

That is straight out of the Banana Republic playbook and an overwhelming majority of Kansans don't like it.

As Yael T. Abouhalkah observed in Kansas City Star article four months ago, a May poll of 66,000 Americans across all 50 states revealed that Sam Brownback remains the nations most unpopular governor with a 26% approval rating; that was even lower than Michigan Republican Governor Rick Snyder whose handling of the Flint Water crisis made him universally loathed.

But clearly that isn't stopping him from trying to be the architect of his twisted conservative fantasy, which for most people in Kansas, including public school students, is more of a nightmare.

As Kansas State Supreme Court Justice Marla Luckert observed of the court's decisions:

"I'm not saying that everyone should agree with the decisions I make or that my court makes. There is room for disagreement; we have dissent. We don't even agree ourselves sometime. But we all need, I believe, to step back and not be swept [by] the rhetoric, and instead think about what is the role of the courts in our democracy."

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